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Behrooz Parhami's Blog & Books Page

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Page last updated on 2020 July 06

This page was created in 2009 as an outgrowth of the section entitled "Books Read or Heard" in my personal page. The rapid expansion of the list of books warranted devoting a separate page to it. Given that the book introductions and reviews constituted a form of personal blog, I decided to title this page "Blog & Books," to also allow discussion of interesting topics unrelated to books from time to time. Lately, non-book items (such as political news, tech news, puzzles, oddities, trivia, humor, art, and music) have formed the vast majority of the entries.

Entries in each section appear in reverse chronological order.

Blog entries for 2020
Blog entries for 2019
Blog entries for 2018
Blog entries for 2017
Blog entries for 2016
Archived blogs for 2015
Archived blogs for 2014
Archived blogs for 2012-13
Archived blogs up to 2011

Blog Entries for 2020

2020/07/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Ear mask, for Republicans who don't want to hear anything about the raging pandemic and its death toll Persian poetry: Let's opt for compassion, equality, and justice for all genders and races Michigan vs. Florida: Competent, caring governor versus shoot-from-the-hip Trump crony
Is this why Trump calls the pandemic 'Kung Flu'? Mount Touchmore, a monument celebrating sexual predators, planned for Trump's second term! (Cartoon) Trump to Putin: 'When you have a minute let's talk about November' (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Hear no evil: New mask for Republicans who don't want to hear anything about the raging pandemic and its death toll. [Top center] Persian poetry: Let's opt for compassion, equality, and justice for all genders and races. [Top right] Michigan vs. Florida: Competent, caring governor versus shoot-from-the-hip Trump crony. [Bottom left] Is this why Trump calls the coronavirus pandemic "Kung Flu"? [Bottom center] Mount Touchmore, a monument celebrating sexual predators, planned for Donald Trump's second term! [Bottom right] Trump to Putin: "When you have a minute let's talk about November."
(2) Home repairs: Sixteen months after reporting a crack in my master-bedroom wall resulting from a glaring construction defect to the homeowners' association, the first phase of repair has been completed, with texturing and painting to be done in the coming week. One year of the delay was due to dereliction of duty on the management company's part and four months were added by the coronavirus pandemic. [Photo]
(3) Life where no one expects it: Dubbed "extreme life," tiny creatures living in remnants of an ancient ocean at the bottom of deep South-African gold mines provide clues on what life on Mars, if it exists, might look like.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Anti-Trump Republicans, who got steamrolled in 2016, aim for better organization this year.
- Japan flooding: The country braces for more rain, as the death toll from flooding rises to at least 37.
- Legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, best-known for his spaghetti-Western scores, dead at 91.
- A white guy sings a Bruno Mars funk tune to mostly-empty seats at White House's July 4th celebration.
- Iran's most-important uranium enrichment site suffered significant damage from an "accident."
- Boeing to retire its iconic 747 jumbo-jet, the workhorse of many long-haul flights across the globe.
(5) Inflation-adjusted non-defense R&D spending by the US government fell during the 2010-2019 decade, even as the country enjoyed the longest economic expansion in history.
(6) Isolated shootings at protest sites may devolve into a full-scale race war if POTUS continues to characterize those who demand racial justice as extreme-leftists and anarchists to his gun-toting supporters.
(7) Yet another Trump enabler: Though not brave enough to directly dispute Trump's false claims that 99% of coronavirus infections are harmless and that vaccines/therapeutics will become available way before the end of the year, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn did so by dodging the questions.

2020/07/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
IEEE Spectrum magazine article (July 2020): How air-conditioning came about IEEE Spectrum magazine cover feature (July 2020): Human sweat to provide energy source for wearable electronics IEEE Spectrum magazine image (July 2020): World's first digital camera (1) Highlights from IEEE Spectrum magazine, July 2020: [Left] How air-conditioning came about: In 1902, Willis Haviland Carrier (1876-1950) was asked to help improve production quality and worker productivity in a color-printing factory in Brooklyn, NY, by keeping the temperature at 27 Celsius and relative humidity at 55%. He used cold well water for half of the cooling and mechanical refrigeration based on evaporative cooling for the other half. [Center] Cover feature on energy scavenging: Human sweat to provide energy source for wearable electronics. [Right] World's first digital camera: Eastman Kodak engineer Steven Sasson designed this camera to test the imaging capabilities of Fairchild Semiconductor's 100-by-100-pixel charge-coupled device. The toaster-size portable camera used 16 AA batteries and weighed 3.6 kg.
(2) Quote of the day: "I will say one last thing for him. I know he would be disappointed not to have lived to see Trump's eviction from the White House, to make America safe again for honor and truth. Please VOTE!" ~ Annie Reiner, comedy legend Carl Reiner's daughter, writing on her dad's Instagram account
(3) Prince Andrew and other powerful men are sweating: Recently-arrested Jeffrey Epstein friend & procuress, Ghislaine Maxwell, reportedly has decided to talk and name names.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Kellyanne Conway's daughter trolls her on Tik Tok, and tells her father she is sorry his marriage failed.
- Decades-old Goleta murder cases finally put to rest with Golden-State Killer's guilty plea.
- Fifty years of market downs and ups: Recovery tends to be slower than the crash.
- Alan Alda: The film/TV star who is a fierce science advocate (story in AARP magazine).
- Dear Trump supporters: Sorry, but you got played by a con man. [Meme]
- Sign of the times: A friend had watermelon & blueberries at home, while attending an on-line wedding!
- Pretty healthy-looking 80-year-olds. [Image credit: AARP magazine, June-July 2020]
- Spectacle: Elvis Costello, with Diana Krall and Elton John, who interviews Krall. Wonderful music!
(5) Trumpians are obsessed with store looters: I don't condone looting, just as I don't condone the murder of 127,000 Americans by negligence, but the damage caused to the American economy by store looters (estimated at ~$0.5 billion by the Anderson Economic Group, cited on Fox Business) pales in comparison with those caused by Wall-Street execs during the 2008 financial crisis or by the current mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. It is even orders-of-magnitude less than the damage caused by a major hurricane (Katrina, $55 billion in today's dollars). The real looters wear expensive suits and ties.

2020/07/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Independence Day: Two quotes on freedom Independence Day: Lady Liberty, US flag, fireworks Independence Day: Stay safe!
Meme: 'Mask it or Casket' Walmart is set to convert 160 store parking lots to drive-in theaters Biden tweet says that he will read his daily briefings (1) Happy Independence Day (top row): On this day, we Americans celebrate the freedoms that our forefathers fought hard to secure and other generations since then sacrificed to maintain. We do not celebrate our flag, but the ideals that are behind it. We do not celebrate our military might, but how it is used to safeguard our freedoms and help others protect theirs. There is a reason that Lady Liberty is holding a torch and not a gun!
Images (bottom row): [Left] Meme of the day: It took "Click it or Ticket" to get people to wear a seatbelt. I wonder if "Mask it or Casket" might work for curbing the coronavirus pandemic? [Center] Movie buffs rejoice: Walmart is set to convert 160 store parking lots to drive-in theaters. Note the absence of car-side sound systems, one of the major cost and maintenance headaches of old-style drive-ins, before the age of smartphones. [Right] One day soon we will again have a president who reads, understands, and learns!
(2) Dumb as they come: Eric Trump deleted his "Birds of a feather ..." tweet after commenters began posting photos of his dad with recently-arrested child-sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell (circled in the tweet).
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- This year, I will celebrate American Independence Day with a 4-month delay, on November 4th!
- The majestic Mount Damavand, observed and photographed by Majid Behzad over a decade.
- Reposting from July 4, 2010: "The great multi-colored hope" [My Facebook post]
- Are we wise enough and brave enough to divert some of our military budget to madical research? [FB post]
- Spectacle: Elvis Costello, with Diana Krall and Elton John, who interviews Krall. Wonderful music!
- French music: Zaz performs "Je Veux" in concert.
- Persian music: A nice rendition of "Gho'ghaa-ye Setaaregaan" ("Celebration of the Stars").
- Persian music by unnamed group, featuring vocals and four traditional instruments. [4-minute video]
(4) I was delighted to see David Tovar back at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace this afternoon, performing his wonderful music, as I sipped coffee and read a couple of magazines. [Video]
(5) "Hamilton: An American Musical": The movie version (stage recording) of Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical production is finally out. My daughter and I watched and enjoyed it yesterday. The show's 47 musical numbers (listed in Wikipedia) span a wide range of styles, from modern hip-hop to traditional show-tunes. The Broadway production, which won the 2016 Tony Award for best musical, as well as many other accolades, has been described as the story of America's founding (America then) told by today's Americans (America now). Here is my 5-star review of Lin-Manuel Miranda's and Jeremy McCarter's book, describing the ideas behind and the making of the musical, which took many years.

2020/07/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Man with drywall dust on his face, despite wearing a face-mask Street signs: Behrooz Alley in Tehran, Iran JPL scientist/engineer Shouleh Nikzad (1) Images of the day: [Left] Anti-face-mask misinformation: If masks cannot stop the 10-micron drywall-dust particles, how will they stop the 0.1-micron virus? (See the next item below) [Center] My alley in Tehran, Iran! [Right] JPL scientist/engineer Shouleh Nikzad, at work (see the last item below).
(2) Russia pays the Taliban to kill Americans in Afghanistan: It is doing it more cheaply in the US, by spreading anti-face-mask misinformation. Bill Hahn Jr. addresses this particular piece of misinformation (comparing drywall dust with the much smaller virus) quite well. It's a long explanation, but well worth the read.
(3) February 27, 2020, was a typically chaotic day in the Trump White House: Events included beefing up the Coronavirus Task Force, a day after VP Mike Pence was chosen to lead it, and an early-afternoon intelligence briefing on Russian operatives paying the Taliban to kill Americans in Afghanistan.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- More than 120 die in Myanmar jade-mine landslide following heavy rains: The death toll continues to rise.
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro ordered by court to wear a face-mask in public.
- Insecure, paranoid leaders increasingly use national security as a pretext for persecuting their people.
- Three Iranian environmental activists die in a fire witnesses say was started by Revolutionary Guards.
- World's oldest film clip from 130 years ago, after restoration, stabilization, and dubbing.
- A museum in Tehran is wiped clean of all of its valuable artifacts in an overnight heist.
- Iran's architecture: Tour of a luxury suite in Esfahan's Abbasi (former Shah Abbas) Hotel.
(5) Humor from Iran: Teach your children English. We've been telling the Islamic Republic officials for decades that "we can't breathe," in Persian and in every regional dialect there is. George Floyd said it in English and all of our officials, from the lowest level all the way up to the Supreme Leader, understood it!
(6) Sports 2.0: Like everything else in our politically-charged society, sports are changing, and it is mostly for the better. Soccer players kneel to support BLM. College athletes speak about racial justice. NASCAR drivers want confederate symbols out. Athletes no longer accept the advice to just play and leave politics alone.
(7) Introducing a JPL scientist/engineer: Dr. Shouleh Nikzad is a Senior Research Scientist and Principal Engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, where she leads the Advanced Detector Arrays, Systems, and Nanoscience Group. She heads a multidisciplinary team of cosmologists, material scientists, chemists, electrical engineers, physicists, and others to tackle key challenges in space exploration and medical science. She holds a PhD in Applied Physics from Caltech, a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from Caltech, and a BS degree in Electrical Engineering (Electrophysics) with honors from USC. She has over 100 peer-reviewed publications and holds 20 US patents.

2020/07/01 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The historic Constitution House in Esfahan, Iran Undated old photo from Esfahan's Naghsh-e Jahan Square Forbes cover: The coronavirus pandemic is bringing about necessary innovations that improve capitalism (1) Images of the day: [Left] The historic Constitution House in Esfahan, Iran. [Center] Undated old photo from Esfahan's Naghsh-e Jahan Square. [Right] Positive spin: The coronavirus pandemic is bringing about necessary innovations that improve capitalism.
(2) Carl Reiner dead at 98: The comedy legend had a long list of acting, writing, and other film & TV credits. He was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by the Kennedy Center in 2000.
(3) James Taylor at Fenway Park: The singer's August 2015 concert will be streamed free of charge on Saturday, July 4, 2020 (YouTube, 11:00 AM PDT; Facebook, 2:00 PM PDT). [Facebook post]
(4) Ruhollah Zam, dissident journalist and founder of Amad News, sentenced to death in Iran: Zam, who fled Iran and lived in France for many years, was kidnapped by Iran's Revolutionary Guards while visiting Baghdad.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Canada Day: On July 1, 1867, Britain's Canadian colonies gained self-governing dominion status.
- Ode to Canada: Today, our neighbors to the north celebrate their country & culture, including with this song.
- Two pandemics at the same time? A new swine flu, found in China, can potentially spread worldwide.
- Exodus of advertisers from Facebook continues: Ford, Adidas, Denny's, and HP are pulling their ads.
- Protesters descend on Texas Capitol to oppose bar closures, while Americans are dying! [#BarLivesMatter]
- Persian calligraphy: Beautiful samples, in an image and a 6-minute video.
- Redesign/restoration plans for the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. [Video]
- Some impressive magic tricks. Enjoy!
- Music played with an instrument made of bottles: "Granada"
- Persian music: Solmaz Naraghi performs her own composition, playing the setar and singing. Wonderful!
- Persian music: Kayhan Kalhor, master kamancheh player, takes playing the instrument to new heights.
- Persian music: Kamancheh solo, with piano accompaniment. Wonderful! [4-minute video]
(6) Savage treatment of animals continues in Iran: Stray dogs are collected in Salmas, West Azerbaijan, and killed by putting them in the compression chamber of a garbage truck.
(7) Iran, Turkey, Iraq (triangle of murder): Turkey extradited two Iranians wanted for street demonstrations. Iraq delivered to Iran a journalist visiting from France. All three were tried and given death sentences.
(8) UCSB's 2020 GRIT talks: The GRIT (Ground-breaking Research & Innovative Technology) program introduces UCSB denizens, and, now, via Zoom, anyone else who might be interested, to the amazing breadth of research on our campus. The talks (5:30 PM PDT) are free but one must pre-register to receive a Zoom link. Past GRIT talks are available on UCTV. This year, I am particularly looking forward to the following two talks.
- 7/06: Benjamin J. Cohen (Plitical Sci.), "Currency Wars: How National Currencies Compete"
- 7/22: Tobias Hollerer (Computer Sci.), "The World as Computer Interface: How Will Humans Stay in Control?"
(9) Final thought for the day: Donald Trump sues to stop the publication of a book by his niece, Mary Trump, and loses on appeal. What could be the basis for suing her? There can't be any classified information involved!

2020/06/30 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Claudia Yaghoobi's book, 'Temporary Marriage in Iran,' and a photo of the author Meme: CDC's new plan to increase the number of people who wear face-masks in public Teasing the great Iranian poet Sa'adi: Photos of Taylor Swift and Ahmad Khatami (1) Images of the day: [Left] Cover image of Claudia Yaghoobi's book, Temporary Marriage in Iran, and a photo of the author (see the next item below). [Center] Humorous meme of the day: CDC's new plan to increase the number of people who wear face-masks in public. [Right] Teasing the great Iranian poet Sa'adi: Are you serious? All human beings are created of the same essence?
(2) Book review: Yaghoobi, Claudia, Temporary Marriage in Iran: Gender and Body Politics in Modern Iranian Film and Literature (The Global Middle East, Book 12), Cambridge, 2020.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
[Side note: I had been wanting to write about the institution of marriage in Iran, including monogamy, polygamy, and temporary unions, in the context of women's rights, for some time. Coming across Claudia Yaghoobi's book provided this opportunity, which I grabbed with delight. What I write in this review is based on the role of marriage and women in traditional, religious Iranian communities. Things are quite different among the enlightened elites and a vast majority of the youth. Temporary marriage is frowned upon, or even ridiculed, by the latter, to the extent that sigheh has become a pejorative term and carries a stigma. Interestingly, however, the stigma affects women entering into temporary marriage disproportionately. For brevity, I will forego citing exceptions such as the ones above in my statements. I will also use a broad brush, painting the average or common case and ignoring some of the finer points of the practice, which include variations such as nonsexual temporary marriages.]
Yaghoobi's book, a comprehensive treatment of the institution of temporary marriage in Iran, consists of three parts, preceded by a 6-page prologue and followed by a 20-page bibliography and a 13-page index.
Part I, General Overview: Introduction (pp. 9-44) + Chapter 1 (pp. 45-74)
Part II, Representation of Sigheh/Sex Work in the Literature of the Pahlavi Era: Chapters 2-6 (pp. 75-200)
Part III, The Islamic Republic and Sigheh in the Film Industry: Chapters 7-8 (pp. 201-250) + Epilogue (pp. 251-265)
In any dictatorship, a lone dictator or a ruling junta makes up laws and rules. There is no independent legislature to deliberate on the wisdom or nuances of such laws/rules. Autocratic rulers often do not need to justify a new law or rule that is obviously designed to benefit them, but they sometimes do provide justifications of sorts to the masses. And, of course, religious justification is the most convenient, as it cannot be challenged without being accused of heresy.
Patriarchy is similar to autocracy, in that men, who wield power over women, make up laws/rules with or without offering justifications. Temporary marriage is a case in point. At some juncture, powerful men decided that they are entitled to more sex, and wanted to avoid the stigma of using paid sex-workers, so they came up with laws/rules for polygamy and temporary marriage (sigheh). Both practices predate Islam, so they should be considered cultural rather than religious constructs. Over the centuries, various justifications have been advanced. During the spread of Islam and other periods of war, many men died in battle, leading to a dwindling men-to-women ratio. So, men declared themselves altruistic in wanting to satisfy the sexual needs of widows and other lonely women who could not find husbands.
When, in modern times, the men-to-women ratio moved toward near-balance, economic needs of women were brought to the fore, never mind that women being economically subservient to men is the fault of the same rule-makers, who do not allow women into certain professions, or pay them less for the same job, on the account that they are physically and intellectually inferior to men. The latter justification essentially equates women with slaves, who should provide sexual and home-making services to their masters, in return for food and shelter, and, if the master sees fit, luxuries such as jewelry and creature comforts. And women should be eternally indebted and subservient to show their gratitude.
It is a sign of moral decrepitude and cultural backwardness that sexual relations between unmarried young couples, who love and respect each other, and enter the relationship as equals, is frowned upon, whereas hours-long temporary unions, in which the man sets the rules, and usually pays a sum of money as part of the "contract," is a sanctioned activity! In other words, the rule-makers approve of women being used as commodities to satisfy men's needs but they cannot enter a relationship as equal partners.
Interestingly, "nikah al-mut'ah," the Arabic term for temporary marriage or sigheh, literally means "pleasure marriage," which flushes all the other justifications down the drain! As they say, it takes two to tango. Women who enter into temporary marriage bonds do so willingly and can negotiate for better terms. However, selecting between being stoned to death or maimed for satisfying a basic human need and engaging in a sanctioned activity with financial rewards isn't a real choice.
Yaghoobi tackles the institution of temporary marriage, a staple of Twelver Shiite Islam, which is particularly ingrained in Iran's culture and legal system, by reviewing how it has been portrayed in Persian literature and film over the last century. Even though the institution is older than a century, it was apparently not discussed openly in the pre-Pahlavi era.
Literature from the Pahlavi era (1925-1979) is represented by Morteza Moshfeq-e Kazemi's Tehran-e Makhuf (Horrid Tehran) Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh's Ma'sumeh Shirazi (Ma'sumeh from Shiraz), Jalal Al-e Ahmad's "Jashn-e Farkhondeh" ("The Auspicious Celebration"), Ebrahim Golestan's "Safar-e 'Esmat" ("'Esmat's Journey"), and Sadeq Chubak's Sang-e Sabur (The Patience Stone). One cannot help but to notice that all the works included were written by men. For the benefit of Persian-speaking readers, Yaghoobi quotes a number of short passages from each work in Persian, followed by translations in English.
In the Islamic-Republic era (1979-present), discussion of temporary marriage virtually disappeared from the print literature, with fear of censorship or political persecution being a possible explanation, but films such as Behruz Afkhami's "Shokaran" ("Hemlock") and (Mohammad) Hossein FarahBakhsh's "Zendegi-ye Khosusi" ("Private Life") do devote some attention to it. Both films were made by men who happen to be former supporters of the Islamic regime. This may explain why they dared to tackle such a controversial and politicized topic. In the case of the two films, there is no equivalent to quoting short passages to give the book's reader a feel for the original source material (the quote from Imam Ali on p. 226 notwithstanding), so, I have included links to full versions of the films on YouTube for the benefit of readers of this review.
["Shokaran" (full 82-minute movie)] ["Zendegi-ye Khosusi" (full 96-minute movie)]
The treatment of polygamy and temporary marriage derives from how regular marriage is viewed in Shiite Islam, and thus Iranian law. A woman, regardless of her talents and accomplishments, gains her social status from her father or other male guardian before marriage and from her husband afterward [p. 45]. It is not uncommon to refer to a woman as X's daughter or Y's wife, rather than by her name. So, a woman is primarily a wife, daughter, or sister, before she is a doctor or teacher. The male "master," of whom the woman is a mere extension, controls her in every way, particularly with regard to sexuality.
Yaghoobi ends her book's epilogue thus [p. 265]: "Reading Western feminist theories alongside Iranian feminist discourse and modern Iranian fiction and cinema, I have placed texts in conversation with feminism to better understand not only female sexuality, sex work, and sigheh marriages in Iranian culture, but also the modern definition of Iranian womanhood."
Yaghoobi has produced a valuable addition to the literature on women's rights, feminism, and sexuality in Iran. I recommend the book highly to those who want to gain a better understanding of one of the key issues that separates political Islam and its patriarchal foundations from modernity.

2020/06/29 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
NYC's Central Park gets a monument of women's rights pioneers: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Somber reflections on the Black experience (see the last item below). [Right] NYC's Central Park gets a monument of women's rights pioneers: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are shown gathered around a table to draft a document.
(2) Trevor Noah interviews Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show": What if our politicians could think and talk like these literate people, instead of like people who never went to school or forgot everything they learned?
(3) "From Tehran to Jerusalem": This is the title of a Persian-language documentary film, featuring interviews with Iranian immigrants and their children living in Israel, answering questions about where they consider home and their connections with Iranian history, arts, and culture.
(4) Segments of an interview with Iranian filmmaker Masoud Kimiai (1941-): At one point, Kimiai shows the interviewer ridiculous annotations made by Iranian censors on one of his film scripts. And here is a teaser for the interview which features different segments, as well as Kimiai playing the piano.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The real looters in America aren't the ones breaking store windows: Robert Reich explains.
- Trump's PDB may have included info on bounties paid by Russia to the Taliban for killing of Americans.
- The number of COVID-19 cases tops 10 million and deaths surpass 0.5 million, 1/4 of them in the US.
- Well, suppose a COVID-19 vaccine comes along soon: What will we do with anti-vaxxers?
- Jennifer Hudson reportedly shines as Aretha Franklin in "Respect," the soon-to-be-released biopic.
- Cyber-insecurity: A new Android ransomware is disguised as a COVID-19 contact-tracing app.
- The magnificence of Paris: Eiffel Tower's aerial tour and its recent re-opening ceremony.
(6) A mathematical advance, thanks to COVID-19: While confined to their homes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, mathematicians Joshua Greene and Andrew Lobb decided to tackle a version of an easy-to-describe problem that had remained unsolved for a century. Does every closed curve include 4 points that are the corners of a rectangle of any desired proportion? This Quanta Magazine article describes the problem and its solution method, and it includes a video.
(7) The Black experience: Thanks to recent protests for racial justice, I am learning more about the treatment of Blacks, Black women in particular, throughout our nation's history. The images above are the cover of Time magazine's July 6/13 double-issue, featuring essays on why America must change its outlook on race relations, and the illustration accompanying a New York Times opinion piece entitled "You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument," in which poet Caroline Randall Williams describes how Black female slaves among her ancestors were raped on a regular basis by their masters, in part to produce more slaves.

2020/06/28 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia Nature's colors and design: Flower surrounded by a cobweb The Qajar-era Sa'd al-Saltaneh caravanserai in Qazvin, Iran
Happy Tau Day (6/28): Tau = 2 Pi Recycled Trump campaign signs Singer/actress Cher, 75, with her mom, 97
Family gathering in Ventura, California: Flowers and lemon tree Family gathering in Ventura, California: Members Family gathering in Ventura, California: Desserts (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia (1907). [Top center] Nature's amazing colors and design: Flower surrounded by a cobweb, photographed in Goleta, CA, on June 27, 2020. [Top right] The Qajar-era Sa'd al-Saltaneh (Esfahani) caravanserai in Qazvin, Iran (photo credit: @sina.mpoor). [Middle left] Happy Tau Day (6/28): Tau = 2 Pi is an even more important constant in mathematics and physics than Pi itself. [Middle center] Discarded Trump/Pence campaign signs: Come November, it will be Trump himself and his enablers! [Middle right] Singer/actress Cher, with her mom at 86. [Bottom row] Photos from family gathering in Ventura, California, after a long time.
(2) Humor from Iran: If wearing face-masks continues much longer, pretty soon women's mouths will be classified as private parts to be covered at all times. Then, mullahs will start telling stories about how the Prophet or Imams would never enter a house where women weren't wearing face-masks!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- #ByeIvanka: A political ad that puts Trump White House's hypocricy on full display.
- The corporate response to Black Lives Matter is heartening, even if it is motivated by the bottom line.
- The coronavirus pandemic has made bicycling more popular: NYC may get a new pedestrian/bike bridge.
- Zomato food delivery guy eats a bit of each order, reclosing the boxes as if nothing happened.
- Message to POTUS and VPOTUS: #RealMenWearMasks
- Attributes required for various careers: Comedy routine with Venn diagrams and much truth.
(4) 3D integration technologies for mitigating the memory and power walls in computer architecture: As we reach the end of Moore's-Law-scaling, that has given us automatic factor-of-2 density and performance improvements every 1.5-2 years, the limitations imposed on performance by memory latency/bandwidth (memory wall) and bounds on the power we can safely consume and dispose of in the form of heat (power wall) are getting more serious, given our continued appetite to transfer and process more data arising from big-data applications, AI, and high-fidelity multimedia. 3D integration, can place the myriads of components needed in a modern digital system closer together, thereby reducing communication latency and power consumption. The down side is that denser 3D designs make it harder to get rid of the generated heat, making low-power designs even more critical. Currently, 3D technologies are at best 2.5D, meaning that the third dimension doesn't enjoy the same status as the other two, because it uses a different interconnection scheme and has strict dimensional limits (a handful of layers, perhaps a dozen or two at best). For example, we may use through-silicon-vias (essentially metal-filled holes in the silicon that connect elements on one separately-manufactured layer to those on an adjacent layer, or we may deposit layers sequentially by means of a single manufacturing process, allowing smaller, more efficient interconnects. Because energy density is smaller for memory elements compared with computational circuitry, 3D integration is currently more suited to memories.

2020/06/27 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian poem: Iraj Mirza's dialog with a donkey Cartoon: A new punishment in Hell The four seasons of the tiny Kotisaari Island in Finland (1) Images of the day: [Left] Humorous Persian poetry: A poem by Iraj Mirza, in which he talks with a donkey and emerges wishing humans were more like donkeys. [Center] New Yorker cartoon: "It's a new punishment. We place them in an endless video-conference with everyone they couldn't stand in life." [Right] The four seasons of the tiny Kotisaari Island in Finland.
(2) The Dixie Chicks drop the word "Dixie" from their band's name: This is part of a broad nationwide trend to get rid of symbols of confederacy and slavery.
(3) Model accuracy: Trump enablers are pointing to the pessimistic epidemic models that predicted the number of COVID-19 deaths in the US could exceed 1 million. Yes, those pessimistic models were off by a factor of 8, because they assumed no interventions, such as business closures and social-distancing. Not one of these imbeciles points to Trump's prediction that the number of cases would go from 15 at the time to 1, an under-estimate by a factor of millions in the number of cases and by a factor of 125,000 in the number of deaths!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Mike Pence: "We succeeded in flattening the curve." (He must be looking at the chart sideways. MAGA!)
- European Union to bar most travelers arriving from the US and several other countries.
- IMF predicts an 8.0% drop in US GDP this year, vs. a 4.9% drop globally.
- Colored woman sprayed with fuel and set on fire in Wisconsin: UST, UST! (T stands for Taliban)
- "Predictive policing" is euphemism for racial profiling: Santa Cruz is the first US city to ban the practice.
- Brace yourselves for jam-packed flights: Airlines are gradually removing the empty middle seats.
(5) But Montana has very few cases: This is essentially the defense offered by Trump administration officials when confronted with data about a surge in the number of new coronavirus infections, nationally as well as in several of America's most-populous states.
(6) Puzzle (not to test you, but because I am genuinely puzzled): Automatic fuses trip when excessive current flows through them. I had put one of these automatic fuses in the off position, because it feeds a microwave oven which is malfunctioning and its fan does not turn off (the fan's heat/smoke sensor must be stuck). Yesterday, the breaker flipped to the on position on its own. I had never seen such a reversal of function.
(7) Economists hate redundancy, engineers embrace it: The world economy is extensively optimized by the pursuit of maximum profits, to a degree that our systems are rendered fragile by removing all redundancies and inefficiencies. This fragility is the root cause of the socioeconomic difficulties brought about by coronavirus. The Internet, by contrast, has built into it a great deal of redundancy and adaptability, which allowed us to work/teach/learn from home during the pandemic, despite vastly increased usage and unexpected workloads. [Paraphrasing Moshe Vardi, writing in Communications of the ACM, issue of July 2020] [Full text]

2020/06/26 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Angela Merkel and her coat of many colors New daily coronavirus cases and deaths in Iran, March-June 2020 Land-o-Lakes, a butter brand, has removed the image of a Native American woman from its packages (1) Images of the day: [Left] Coat of many colors: Angela Merkel seems to really, really like this particular jacket style! [Center] Second wave in action: Iran sees a surge in daily new coronavirus infections (green curve) and daily deaths (red curve), after the government eased restrictions. While more detected cases can be attributed to increased testing, the surge in number of deaths cannot. Is this trend what awaits us in the US? [Right] Fact-based humor: Land-o-Lakes, a butter brand which featured the image of a Native American woman on the packages, has removed the Native American and kept the "Land." How American!
(2) Interesting article in the prestigious journal Science: J. R. Cimpian, T. H. Kim, and Z. T. McDemott, "Understanding Persistent Gender Gaps in STEM," Vol. 368, No. 6497, pp. 1317-1319, June 2020. [Full text]
(3) Quote of the day: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." ~ Roman-Catholic Archbishop Don Helder Camara
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- White House ordered NIH to cancel coronavirus research funding, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
- Three people standing on rocks just north of Malibu were swept into the ocean by a wave and drowned.
- Surprise birthday party produces a real surprise: Eighteen relatives testing positive for coronavirus!
- Mathematician and computing pioneer Alan Turing will be featured on UK's new 50-pound note.
- Observation: If you don't need a mask because Jesus protects you, then why do you need an assault rifle?
- Dangerous profession: Installing and maintaining high-voltage electric transmission lines. [Video]
- Humor, from The Onion: Clueless talking heads discuss the volatile political situation in Nigeria. [Video]
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Song & dance, Bollywood style. [3-minute video] [On YouTube]
(5) An apt analogy: Trump blames China for the pandemic, as if this would excuse his inaction. Imagine an American city being hit by a nuclear bomb and, rather than helping those injured by the blast and sickened by radiation, Trump just blamed North Korea and demanded that we stop testing for radiation effects!
(6) Humor: Putin takes a cue from Trump in telling the Olympics Committee, "Don't test our athletes for doping. We won't have any doping cases if you stop testing!"
(7) A final thought: It's scary that with all the laws Trump has broken, his incompetence, lies he has told, his incoherent & contradictory speeches, the racism he has stoked, and the pandemic he has helped worsen by his denials and science-phobia, we are still wondering whether he will be re-elected! Why is it even close?

2020/06/25 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Exchanging Khomeinis for Ben Franklins: Iranian currency continues its decline The number 36 is both a perfect square and triangular The building that is held together with a zipper (1) Images of the day: [Left] Exchanging Khomeinis for Ben Franklins: Iranian currency continues its decline. The free-market price of one US dollar is now ~200,000 rials (~20,000 tomans). There is a joke going around in Iran that Khomeini promised to make water, electricity, gas, and bus fare free for the masses; instead, he made the rial free! [Center] The number 36 is both a perfect square and triangular (see the next item below). [Right] The building that is held together with a zipper: A work by British sculptor Alex Chinneck.
(2) Math puzzle: The diagram above shows that 36 is both a perfect square and a triangular number (defined as the sum of all consecutive integers from 1 to some value n). The previous number which is both a square and a triangular number is 1. What is the next number with this property?
Challenge for the more daring among you: If we write the sequence of numbers that are both perfect squares and triangular, calling the kth one N(k), with N(1) = 1, N(2) = 36, and so on, what is the limit of N(k+1)/N(k) as k tends to infinity? [See this Wikipedia article for the answers]
(3) From Russia with lies: Alternative news from Russia pumps disinformation about coronavirus to US and Europe. And such fake news from Russian sources will be around, with or without Kremlin's backing.
(4) Coronavirus disrupts recycling: Reuse, communal use, and second-hand purchases have gone down and waste has increased, as grocers bring back the single-use plastic bag to reduce person-to-person transmission.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Powerful magnitude-7.4 off-shore earthquake hits near Oaxaca, southern Mexico.
- Iran's Supreme Court upholds the death sentences of 3 young men arrested in the Nov. 2019 protests.
- Thirty Iranian Baha'is have been sentenced to long prison terms averaging 5 years.
- Popular Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti sentenced to 5 months in prison for insulting law enforcement.
- Ayatollahs have issued edicts against women riding bikes, because it can arouse men! [Iranwire cartoon]
- On-line book release event: Ziba Shirazi & Kamran Afary, Iranian Diaspora Identities: Stories and Songs.
(6) Some 65% of US colleges plan to hold in-person classes in fall 2020: In many cases, the term will be shortened or shifted to end before Thanksgiving, in anticipation of a second wave of coronavirus spread.
(7) A new king of supercomputers: According to the biannual Top500 list, Japan's Fugaku, installed in Kobe, is now the world's most powerful supercomputer, dethroning an IBM system at US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and putting us near the halfway point in the quest for ExaFLOPS performance.
(8) A final thought: Trump lives in a biological bunker, with everyone around him wearing masks and tested daily, as he insists that COVID-19 has passed and no testing or other measures are needed for you and me!

2020/06/24 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The cover of 'National Review': Nearly all Amreican magazines have highlighted the #BlackLivesMatter movement Chains and obstacles make the achievement of equity a serious challenge for women The 'weaker' sex or superhuman? You be the judge.
Collosseum at sunset, Rome, Italy IET ad: Not just a woman, but also engineer, leader, ... Iran's historic architecture: The Aali Qapu Palace (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The cover of National Review: Nearly all Amreican magazines have highlighted the #BlackLivesMatter movement. [Top center] Chains and obstacles make the achievement of equity a serious challenge for women (source). [Top right] The "weaker" sex or superhuman? You be the judge. [Bottom left] Colosseum at sunset, Rome, Italy (source): Magnificent! [Bottom center] This Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) magazine ad is unrelated to the documentary film screening, reviewed in the last item below, but it conveys the same message. [Bottom right] Iran's historic architecture: The Aali Qapu ("Supreme Port/Gate") Palace, occupies one of the sides of Esfahan's Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
(2) Quote of the day: "[T]here were [in 1982] 85 institutions in the Western world that had been in continuous existence since 1520; 70 of those 85 institutions were universities. This continuity could be seen as a sign that universities are conservative and resistant to change, but it is also a sign that they are resilient and adaptable." ~ UCSB Executive Vice-Chancellor David Marshall, quoting former UC President Clark Kerr's 1982 update to his 1963 book, The Uses of the University
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Reporter Masih Alinejad being out of reach of Khamenei's mafia in Iran, they have imprisoned her brother.
- Nine more Baha'is arrested in Iran. [Facebook post, with photos and names]
- Yet more evidence that animals enjoy music: Dancing horse. [2-minute video]
- "Azerbaijan: A Timeless Presence": Full 49-minute concert by Iranian-born German musician Sami Yusuf.
(4) "Pioneers in Skirts" (film introduction/review): This is the title of a one-hour documentary film screened by IEEE Women in Engineering group yesterday morning as part of the WIE Int'l Leadership Conference. The film's director, Ashley Maria, and producter Lea-Ann W. Berst (the director's mom) introduced the film and discussed what motivated them to make it. Maria talked about her personal experience of finding it hard to get a foot in the film industry, where only 4% of directors are women. Berst related that when she was first looking for a job, newspaper classified ads included male and female jobs in different sections! Gender apartheid and bias aren't as overt today, but they definitely exist.
Stereotyping occurs more often than we realize, even by the affected women themselves. For example, women, and other under-represented minorities, often become timid and withdrawn due to a fear of reinforcing one of the negative stereotypes. In an experiment, when the question about gender was moved from the beginning of a test to the end, women scored higher and men lower. So, just reminding someone of their sex (which is something they already know) rekindles their unconscious biases.
The documentary features a number of pioneering women, including the founder of National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), Lucy Sanders. It also features an all-girls robotics team.
Here are a few things you can do, even before watching the film:
- Recognize and call out your own biases and pre-conceptions
- Speak out, and do it often, when you see injustice
- Support women in your own profession and elsewhere
For a list of the film's screenings, see the "Pioneers in Skirts" Web site. [Screenshot from WIE ILC session]

2020/06/23 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some of the architectural features of Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace The entrance of Costco at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace Flowers photographed along Goleta's Storke Road and within Camino Real Marketplace (1) Images of the day: [Left] Some of the architectural features of Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace, photographed yesterday afternoon. [Center] The entrance of Costco at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace. And here is a 3-minute video showing about 1/4 of the gigantic store's inside. [Right] Flowers photographed during my walk yesterday afternoon: Along Storke Road and within Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace.
(2) Facebook on Trump campaign posts and ads: "We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate. Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol."
(3) Kid to MAGA folks: "So, me wearing a bullet-proof backpack to school, which has armed guards and mass-shooter drills, is "the price of freedom," but you wearing a mask in Walmart for 10 minutes is "tyranny"?
(4) A lawyerly story: The amazing feat of a lawyer who insured two-dozen expensive cigars against fire and then collected $15,000 after he smoked them all! Wait for the punchline! [3-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Time-lapse video of cloud movement around Japan's Mount Fuji. [Tweet, with video]
- Like murder, racism comes in degrees: Many of us "non-racists" are guilty of third-degree racism.
- World's first flying-car race will be held in South Australia later this year.
- Abandoned ship, with trees growing on it: Must be a freshwater lake. Or is it? [Photo]
(6) The loneliness epidemic in America: In 2018, 54% of Americans said they felt lonely, vs. 61% in pre-virus 2019. In the UK, Canada, and Australia, 22% of those surveyed said they feel lonelier post-virus, vs. 31% in the US. [Source: Time magazine, issue of June 22/29, 2020]
[P.S.: I will be writing a review of former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy's book on the topic: Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.]
(7) Offerings from IEEE Computer Society's Distinguished-Lecturer webinar series (times are US EDT):
- 7/09, 11:00 AM: Leonel Sousa, "Unconventional Computer Arithmetic for Emerging Appl's & Technologies"
- 7/16, 06:00 AM: Dimitrios Serpanos, "Smart and Circular Cities: Status, Trends and Opportunities"
(8) What Fiona Hill Learned in the White House: New Yorker article about the former expert on Russia within the Trump administration, who like most women working under Trump was addressed as "honey," "sweetie," or "darling," felt out of place in a West Wing where women wore designer clothes and lots of make-up.
(9) Neo-Nazi terror plot thwarted: A 22-year-old US Army soldier was to provide location and organizational info for a Neo-Nazi terror group to ambush his unit in Turkey.

2020/06/22 (Monday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image for Banerjee's and Duflo's 'Good Economics for Hard Times' Cover image of Luis Alberto Urrea's 'Into the Beautiful North' Cover image of Vivek Murthy's 'Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World' (1) Book review: Banerjee, Abhijit V. and Esther Duflo, Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by James Lurie, PublicAffairs, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a welcome effort by two Nobel Laureates, a husband-and-wife team who previously wrote Poor Economics, to explain global ills and the wrong reasonings that produced and exacerbated them. In reality, there is no Nobel Prize in Economics. The economics honor that is bestowed alongside Nobel Prizes each year is an add-on from 1968, when a major bank gift allowed the Nobel Committee to establish the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
The authors begin by explaining why economists are among the least-trusted professionals, later confiding that economics is too important to be left to economists! Talking heads who pass themselves as economists are part of the problem, but even serious economists in academia don't have a much better record of predicting trends and prescribing remedies. Banerjee and Duflo are down to earth and know the limits of their craft: "We, the economists, are often too wrapped up in our models and our methods and sometimes forget where science ends and ideology begins."
The authors discuss many topics, from immigration to growth and taxes, providing a balanced account of the various theories and viewpoints. On immigration, for example, they contend that there is no evidence whatsoever that an inflow of low-skilled immigrants (or any other kind, for that matter) has a negative impact on the local labor market. One reason is that labor is unlike any other commodity, in that it does not obey the laws of supply-and-demand. As a case in point, incoming migrants are not just workers, but also consumers, taxpayers, and agents of social change.
On growth, the authors point out the dismal record of economists in predicting long-term growth. They cite examples where growth predictions using mountains of data did no better than using averages or random guesses. Indeed, they even doubt that a high growth rate is a positive attribute in and of itself. In fact, the high growth rates of certain countries in recent decades is a historical aberration and most-likely unsustainable in the long run.
On taxes, Banerjee and Duflo cite the discredited, but still oft-invoked, theory of trickle-down economics, which sings the praises of lowering top marginal tax rates for the rich to spur job creation and, thus, economic growth. They maintain that there is no evidence in the mountains of data collected after the Reagan and Bush tax cuts and Clinton's top-marginal-tax-rate increase that higher taxes provide a disincentive for the rich to try hard in creating more wealth.
I found Good Economics for Hard Times solid, eloquently argued, and useful in understanding how economics works, how it can be a useful tool for planning, and how it has limits that, when not exposed, can lead to more harm than good.
(2) Book review: Urrea, Luis Alberto (translated by Enrique Hubbard Urrea), Into the Beautiful North: A Novel, Little, Brown and Company, 2009. [My 3-star review of this book on Good Reads]
This book was the 2017 "UCSB Reads" selection and I tried to read it then, in order to participate in, and make sense of, various planned campus and community discussions, including a lecture by the author on April 24, 2017. For reasons that will become clear in the review that follows, I could not finish the book at the time. As part of the clean-up effort in connection with my to-read list, I recently returned to the book and finished reading it.
First, a few words about the author. Urrea was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, received an undergraduate degree in writing from UC San Diego, did graduate work at University of Colorado, Boulder, and is currently Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at University of Illinois, Chicago.
The book's protagonist, Nayeli, a 19-year-old taco-shop worker in Mexico, who also moonlights as campaign manager for her feisty mayoral-candidate grandma, notices that there are hardly any men left in her village, most of them, including her father, having long gone to the United States in search of work. She hatches a plan for going north with a few friends to recruit seven capable men, a la "The Magnificent Seven" of movies fame, and bring them back to protect her village from bandits.
This is an interesting premise, but, unfortunately, Urrea turns it into a cartoonish quest by making constant connections to films and other artifacts of American pop culture. The characters, and their obsessions with Hollywood movies and other things American, are equally cartoonish. I started reading the book hoping to learn something about life in Mexico and the border culture. Instead, I read page after page about watered-down and distorted images of life on both sides of the US-Mexico border, presented with lots of hard-to-decipher Spanglish.
Urrea has received much recognition for his body of work, including a non-fiction border trilogy that begins with the 1992 title, Across the Wire. Perhaps, I will get a chance to read some of his other books that live up to the praise.
[P.S.: In fairness, I must admit that I am in the minority in my assessment of this book. Amazon readers give it 4.3 stars on average, with 62% giving it the perfect 5 stars and 22% opting for 4 stars. On GoodReads, the average rating is 3.8 stars.]
(3) Book review: Murthy, Vivek H., Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, HarperAudio, 2020.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Dr. Murthy is a former US Surgeon General, who believes loneliness and reduced family and social-network support is making us less well, both physically and emotionally. The root of the problem is a mismatch between how we are wired by evolution to be tribal and trust only family and/or tribe members and how we live in the modern world, where individuality drives us to achieve more by going far away from home and interact mostly with strangers.
Murthy finished writing the preface to this book in early 2020, just as coronavirus was beginning to spread, with quarantine and social-distancing recommendations adding to the problem of loneliness, which was already widespread in the Western culture. Countries like China and India, and many under-developed and developing countries, do much better in this regard. Family and even neighbors form support networks, so that a couple can feel perfectly safe to disappear for a few days, for whatever reason, and know that their children will be fed and protected.
Loneliness, which affects 22% of adults in the US, has been implicated in increased risk of heart disease, dementia, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders, not to mention suicide and opioid addiction. Premature death upon retirement or shortly after the death of a long-time companion is certainly tied to loneliness. It's unfortunately not uncommon for hospitalized elderly to be alone most of the time and even die alone. When nurses and other medical personnel developed schemes to provide companionship for such patients and listen to what they had to say, health outcomes improved markedly.
Time magazine, in its issue of June 22/29, 2020, paints an even more-alarming picture, both pre- and post-pandemic. According to Time, 54% of Americans said they felt lonely in 2018, vs. 61% in pre-virus 2019. In the UK, Canada, and Australia, 22% of those surveyed said they feel lonelier post-virus, vs. 31% in the US.
Women are much better at recognizing loneliness and seeking help. Men are often in denial and feel discomfort in admitting their need for companionship, because they have grown up to think of such an admission as not a "manly" thing to do. When we feel awful due to loneliness, that feeling is our body's signal that we must tend to our social and emotional wounds, in the same way that pain is a signal telling us to seek treatment for a physical ailment.
What makes the problem of loneliness harder to deal with is our tendency to be ashamed of it and to place the blame on ourselves. Admitting to being lonely feels like saying that you aren't likable. Of equal importance as, if not more important than, connections to others is our connection to ourselves. Being grounded and confident in who we are makes it easier for us to connect to others. Establishing and nurturing such connections has become even more important, as we deal with the present-day quarantine and social-distancing requirements. It's much easier to multi-task and be distracted on Zoom than in person.
It is important to deal with loneliness before it becomes a chronic condition with a permanent stress-state. To this end, Murthy suggests a number of steps we can take as individuals, and describes successful social programs that provide an infrastructure for companionship and caring. Personal steps include:
- Spend time with those you love; at least 15 minutes every day.
- Focus on those near you and give them your undivided attention.
- Embrace solitude, which is different from loneliness; you can feel lonely in solitude or at a party with dozens of others.
- Give, and be open to receiving, help and provide community service to strengthen your social bonds.
Successful social support programs across the globe include helping women to defy the odds in their patriarchal villages and become health-care providers, establishing community workshops where men can socialize while tinkering and building (talking shoulder-to-shoulder, as Murthy describes it, compared with women's face-to-face interactions), and modern-age digital pen-pals, often pairing the elederly with young volunteers.

2020/06/21 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A very happy Fathers' Day to all dads, past, present, and future! Poem by Sa'adi about humans being parts of a whole, with English translation My fathers' Day gift, which I have already started to use
Fathers' Day hike on Douglas Family Preserve: Batch 1 of photos A partial list of fears of armed White people declaring that they won't live in fear of the coronavirus Fathers' Day hike on Douglas Family Preserve: Batch 2 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A very happy Fathers' Day to all dads and father-like mentors, past, present, and future! [Top center] It's puzzling why Iranians, who recite this poem of Sa'adi (and similar ones by other great Persian poets expounding on equality, justice, and human dignity) at every opportunity, do not empathize more with the #BlackLivesMatter movement. [Top right] I have already started to use my Fathers' Day gift: A practical implement for those who love seeds and nuts. Certainly more useful than a tie or other common gifts! [Bottom left & right] Photos from an enjoyable Fathers' Day hike with my daughter (see the next item below). [Bottom center] A partial list of fears of armed White people declaring that they won't live in fear of the coronavirus: Blacks, immigrants, Jews, independent women, journalists, LGBTQ+ community, progressives, environmentalists, George Soros, Bill Gates, windmills, vaccines.
(2) Fathers' Day hike: My daughter and I went to the Douglas Family Preserve (the family of Kirk and Michael), adjacent to Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara, for a very pleasant 3-mile hike. The photos of us on the bluffs were taken with parts of UCSB showing in the distance. The photos also depict the onerous stairway leading from just outside the bluffs-top Preserve to the beach (less than half of the stairs appear in each photo), and a close-up of my T-shirt, a gift from a prior year, for the nerds among you.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Surprise, surprise! Trump is corrupt and inept, a deadly combination, according to John Bolton.
- Trump is expected to sign an order to suspend H-1B, L-1, and other temporary visas.
- Sadegh Zarza, a former PDKI leader, survives an assassination attempt in the Dutch city of Leeuwarde.
- Tesla Motors has narrowed the site of its gigafactory to two US cities: Austin, Texas, and Tulsa, Oklahoma.
(4) John Bolton joined the Trump administration on April 9, 2018: By then, multiple books on the dysfunction in the White House had been published, Trump's Twitter attacks on the press and anyone else who did not praise him unconditionally were broadly known, and his nepotism, profiteering, and dictatorial tendencies were in full view. Does Bolton not read, just like Trump? Bolton has criticized the Democrats for not going wide/deep enough in the impeachment proceedings, yet he refused to testify to set the record straight. As delighted as I am with the release of Bolton's book, The Room Where It Happened, I can see why a large segment of the American public is skeptical about his sincerity and motivation.
(5) UCSB College of Engineering's faculty, staff, and students sign a letter expressing solidarity with Black students: This action came after Dean Rod C. Alferness pledged on June 5, 2020, that we will "work together to dismantle the structures of systemic racism in our community and in the broader society [and to] critically examine all components of the College to identify disparities, in order to work toward equity, access, and success for all students, staff, and faculty. ... Four hundred years after the first ships brought slaves to the American colonies, we believe it is high time to do much more than simply repeat the deeply self-evident truth that Black lives matter. We pledge to work together to dismantle the structures of systemic racism in our community and in the broader society. Now is the moment."

2020/06/20 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: For those who can't bear any news concerning the man-child in the White House, or worse, any news at all! Cartoon from Iranwire.com: Woman as a child-making appliance, in the mind of Supreme Leader Khamanei Cover image of a forthcoming book by Mary Trump (1) Images of the day: [Left] New Yorker cartoon: For those who can't bear any news concerning the man-child in the White House, or worse, any news at all! [Center] Cartoon from Iranwire.com: Woman as a child-making appliance, in the mind of Iran's Supreme Leader Khamanei and those around him. [Right] Cover image of a forthcoming book by Mary Trump (see the last item below).
(2) Trump tries to fire a US attorney who is investigating his friends, including Rudi Giuliani: Attorney General William Barr announces that US Attorney Geoffrey Berman is stepping down, but Berman says he has no intention to do so. Are we as great as Saudi Arabia yet?
(3) Thank you, President Trump, for discovering Juneteenth and making us appreciate its importance: Additional thanks for rediscovering and resuscitating racism, bigotry, White Nationalism, and a whole bunch of other evils we all thought were dead or dying!
(4) Sudoku puzzle, with a twist: Other than rules of regular Sudoku, sums for six 2-by-2 square regions are given in their upper-left corners and sums of 6 diagonals of various sizes are given in the margins. [Image] [Major hint: 23 + 30 + 31 + 22 = 16 + 30 + 24 + 28 + six other entries] [Play on-line]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump's Tulsa rally was sparsely attended and the overflow area outside the BOK arena was shut down.
- Drs. Fauci and Birx warned Trump about the health risks of holding large indoor rallies amid a pandemic.
- New COVID-19 cases rising in states and counties won by Trump and declining where Clinton won. [Chart]
- Spies can eavesdrop on you via a telescope and an optical sensor to monitor a glass light bulb's vibrations.
- Art made of hardware and tools. [3-minute video]
- Prolific actors from my youth: Alain Delon & Jean-Paul Belmondo, photographed at 84 & 87, respectively.
(6) Azam Jangravi: Judge Gholamreza Mansouri, who recently turned up dead in Bucharest, Romania, after embezzling billions while in Iran, ruined my life and tried to take away my daughter, because I demonstrated against compulsory hijab. Now, my daughter and I are free and he is dead. I wish he could have been tried.
(7) UCSB lays out its plans for fall 2020: Most courses will be delivered remotely, with smaller classes that significantly benefit from face-to-face lecture/lab format convening on campus or offered in a hybrid format. Regardless of how a course is offered, there are plans to "create a meaningful on-campus experience for as many students as we can." International students, and first-year students who so choose, will be provided with tools to take everything on-line. There will be no discount in tuition and fees (this will likely be challenged, given a reduction in the availability of services for which various mandatory fees are built into what student pay). Dorm rooms may be limited to single-occupancy or, at most, double-occupancy (yet to be decided). So, residence-halls capacity will be diminished. There will be testing and mandatory face-covering.
(8) Book introduction: Are you tired of books by former administration officials exposing ineptitude and corruption by and around Trump? Well, now comes an expose by a family member. Or is it a "disgruntled former niece," just fired from the family? Mary Trump's book, entitled Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, is scheduled for release on July 28, 2020. Mary Trump was apparently New York Time's information source for its Pulitzer-Prize-winning exclusive on Donald Trump's personal finances. [Information about Mary Trump]

2020/06/19 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Juneteenth Day: June 19, celebrated by all Americans, is the day of freedom and emancipation for African-Americans These young girls are all smiles, but what does the future hold for them in a backward patriarchal society? Photos of drought-tolerant landscaping around my housing complex
On toppling statues: Cartoon 1 Cartoon: A big tell-all book and a tiny tell-none book On toppling statues: Cartoon 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Juneteenth Day: June 19, celebrated by all Americans, is the day of freedom and emancipation for African-Americans. [Top center] These young girls are all smiles, but what does the future hold for them in a backward patriarchal society? Absence of educational opportunities? Servitude for food and shelter? Forced marriages to older men? "Honor" killings? [Top right] Drought-tolerant landscaping around my housing complex. [Bottom left & right] Cartoons on toppling statues. [Bottom center] New Yorker cartoon: A big tell-all book (What I Saw in the White House) and a tiny tell-none book (What I Did About It).
(2) An alarming increase in arrests of Baha'i citizens in Iran: The insecure and dictatorial Islamic regime is intolerant of minorities in general, but it shows an unusual level of arbitrariness and cruelty in the treatment of Baha'is. [#BahaiLivesMatter] [Photo collage]
(3) Tesla charging stations in our neck of the woods: A section of the vast parking lot for Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace now hosts a row of Tesla EV charging stations. The stations are lightly utilized for now, but it seems Tesla is betting on an expanded EV market.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- California coronavirus order makes wearing face masks mandatory in public.
- Fox News argues in court that Tucker Carlson is not bound by the truth and his viewers know that he lies!
- Billionaire bishop: God's Will is for women to skip college so that they are not smarter than their husbands!
- This is bound to make you smile, even though Trump is still in office: The most-adorable rock 'n roll fan!
(5) Donald Trump's absolute lack of morality on full display: He doctors a CNN video to say the exact opposite of the original. The video, reporting on the friendship between black and white toddlers, is modified to suggest CNN falsely accused the white toddler of racism. He then blames CNN for what he committed himself, that is, fakery! May our country be saved from this shameless liar and hate-monger, who is stooping to new lows to get re-elected. Father of one the toddlers in Trump's fake video blasts his hate agenda.
(6) Largest open-access publication agreement in North America: University of California has reached a major open-access agreement with Springer Nature, world's second-largest academic publisher. Under the agreement, all articles with a UC corresponding author published in more than 2,700 Springer Nature journals will be open access by default. The initial agreement excludes some journals, but both sides are committed to expanded coverage in 2-3 years. The deal also includes reading access and perpetual rights to more than 1,000 journals in Springer Nature's portfolio to which UC did not previously subscribe. Ngotiations with Elsevier are still stuck, but there are reports of some progress.

2020/06/18 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mowlavi (Rumi) on the limitations of an erudite and reasoning mind On politics tainting religion (poet unknown) Another couplet from Mowlavi (Rumi)
History in pictures: Students of Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, some five decades ago Reyhaneh: Yet another victim of 'honor' killings in Iran (1) Persian poems, and more: [Top left] Mowlavi (Rumi) on the limitations of an erudite and reasoning mind. [Top center] On politics tainting religion (poet unknown). [Top right] A wonderful couplet from Mowlavi (Rumi). [Bottom left] History in pictures: Students of Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, some five decades ago. [Bottom right] Yet another "honor" killing in Iran: Misogynistic laws, rooted in a fear of the backward ruling patriarchs of emancipated women, serve to enable these horrific crimes. #WomenLivesMatter
(2) The number of tweets by an increasingly worried and angry Trump is rising faster than the number of COVID-19 cases, as suggested in this cartoon-tweet by actor Jim Carrey.
(3) Scenes from "Et la Creation fut": A film by Mahmoud Chokrollahi, with the Persian title "Zan, Noor, Nagh'ghashi" ("Woman, Light, Painting"). [8-minute video] [The featured artist is Iran Darroudi.]
(4) Florida bridge closed for inspection due to imminent danger of collapse: Our infrastructure continues to deteriorate as we spend more money on the military and tax cuts for the super-rich.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bolton didn't get his war with Iran, but his war with Trump is raging: Watch his Sunday interview on ABC.
- The US Supreme Court rules against Trump administration's proposal to end DACA.
- SpaceX to build a floating spaceport for use in Mars and Moon missions and hypersonic transport on Earth.
- Virginia librarian uses drones to deliver books to local students.
- Treasure your old books: Making a book was very labor-intensive in the early days of printing technology.
- Brooklyn Duo's rendition of Luis Fonsi's "Despacito" on cello and piano, with a touch of mandolin and cajon.
(6) Interesting lecture from IEEE Computer Society's Build-Your-Career webinar series: Elsa Velasco Paul (founder/creator of The M&E Group) talks about "What Every 'Body' Is Saying," June 18, 11:00 AM EDT (Link).
(7) The alignment of planets does affect life on Earth, but not in the way astrologers tell you: Venus and Earth, because of their relative closeness to the Sun, and Jupiter, because of its huge mass, exert influence the Sun's magnetic field, creating a 405,000-year cycle (when they all line up on the same side of the Sun) that has been verified by retrieving deep layers of sediments in at least two spots on Earth. Fascinating! [6-minute video]
(8) Report on last night's IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: Dr. Di Liang (HP Enterprise Systems) spoke about "Photonics in High-Performance Computing." Besides being treated to an interesting talk (Web report), complimentary virtual pizzas and beverages were provided to the 21 attendees of the Zoom session!

2020/06/17 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for the highly successful movie 'Gone with the Wind' Professor Massoud Soltani, Iranian EE educator, dead at 93 (photo collage) Professor Massoud Soltani, Iranian EE educator, dead at 93 (recent photo) (1) Images of the day: [Left] "Gone with the Wind" back in the spotlight: David Selznick's highly successful motion picture, and Margaret Mitchell's novel on which it was based, are being accused of romanticizing slavery. Many film historians argue that GWTW shouldn't be erased, but it should not be watched in a vacuum either. [Center & Right] Professor Massoud Soltani, Iranian EE educator, dead at 93 (see the next item below).
(2) Professor Massoud Soltani dead at 93: He was one of my instructors at Tehran University's College of Engineering from 1964 to 1968 and supervised the electrical machines lab where I worked as an instructor for a year, before starting my graduate studies in the US. Engineer Soltani, as we called him, is credited with significant contributions to electrical-engineering education in Iran, as well as hands-on involvement in the country's electric power generation and distribution infrastructure. RIP.
(3) Science gains from COVID-19 restrictions: Conference registration fees are in the hundreds of dollars range, even after student discounts. Now, students can "attend" ACM's Symposium on Theory of Computing, a premier computer science conference, for just $25, without also spending lavishly on travel!
(4) This is Fatemeh, an Iranian girl who lived in the southern city of Abadan: She was forced to marry her abusive cousin at age 17. Then, Fatemeh's "caring" parents helped her husband retrieve and behead her after she ran away and took refuge in a women's shelter far away from home.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump administration sues John Bolton to stop the release of his tell-all book, scheduled for June 23.
- Suspicious death of a BLM activist and lynching-style hangings of blacks are being investigated.
- These guys look so much like D. Trump: There were fake names way before there were alternative facts.
- Ten days of Iranian cinema: Free film screenings by the Berlin Film Festival.
- Persian music: Historic footage of a young Viguen performing with a band. Pop music with a conductor?
- Classical music: This 9-minute video of a young girl playing the violin came to me with no identification.
(6) An excerpt from my Facebook post of June 16, 2013, about President Hassan Rouhani's election in Iran (needless to say that I have no form of optimism seven years later):
"At best, I will remain cautiously optimistic when political prisoners have been released, the rights of ethnic and religious minorities have been reinstated, and formal apologies have been issued for lawless filterings, interrogations, imprisonments, and executions. Progress, if any, is bound to be slow, given that the powerful Revolutionary Guards and their information and intelligence operations have grown deep roots."

2020/06/16 (Tuesday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image of Albert Camus' book 'The Plague' Cover image of Jose Saramago's book 'Blindness: A Novel' Cover image for the book 'The Coddling of the American Mind' (1) Book review: Camus, Albert, La Peste (The Plague), 1947.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Many years ago, I read Reza Seyed-Hosseini's Persian translation of this classic novel (Niloofar Publications, Tehran). This brief review is the result of using summaries and several reviews of the book to refresh my memory in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The novel, set in the 1940s, is likely based on the 1840s plague afflicting the French-Algerian city of Oran. The effect of the plague on populace is related through a large number of characters, ranging from medical workers to fugitives.
Authorities downplay the seriousness of the situation, sounding optimistic notes, but eventually acknowledge the presence of an epidemic as the number of deaths rises. The city is finally sealed off, homes are quarantined, trains are turned away, and burials of corpses are strictly supervised.
Town people experience stress and become depressed due to isolation, leading one character to plan his escape with help from criminal elements. Later, martial law is declared and escapees are routinely shot. The plague begins to retreat as an anti-plague serum enters the scene. Eventually, the town reopens and people are reunited with their loved ones from other cities.
The Plague, originally written and published in French, has been translated into many languages. It has been turned into a 1992 feature film, a 2017 play, and a 1965 cantana (a mid-length narrative piece of music).
(2) Book review: Saramago, Jose, Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira (Blindness: A Novel), 1995.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Books about various plagues have been brought to the forefront by the coronavirus pandemic. Albert Camus' The Plague and Jose Saramago's Blindness are among the classics in this domain. Many years ago, I read Minoo Moshiri's Persian translation of this classic novel (edited by Mohammad Reza Ja'fari, Nashr-e Elm, Tehran). This brief review is the result of using summaries and several reviews of the book to refresh my memory.
As a city is hit by an unexplained blindness epidemic that spares no one, authorities confine those afflicted to an asylum, where criminal elements come to rule. The inept government resorts to repressive measures to confront social disintegration and supply shortages that lead to poor hygiene, dismal living conditions, and unrest.
A doctor's wife, herself not afflicted, though she must pretend otherwise at first, is horrified by atrocities at the asylum, such as rations being stolen and women being raped. She and her husband form family-like bonds with a few of their charges, taking them out and leading them through harrowing city streets, demonstrating the strength of human spirit in the face of adversity.
Blindness has been turned into a 2008 feature film (starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore), stage plays, and a German opera. In 2004, Saramago wrote a sequel to Blindness, entitled Seeing, aka "The Plague of Blank Ballots," which is set in the same location and features several of the same characters.
(3) Book review: Lukianoff, Greg and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Jonathan Haidt, Penguin Audio, 2018. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
In this non-fiction book on psychology, the authors argue that overprotecting children and young adults can be just as damaging to their development as underprotecting (neglecting) them. Many examples from psychological studies are cited to essentially indict "helicopter parenting" and to ague that the notion of "free-range kids" should be embraced instead.
And the problem isn't limited to young children. Overprotection excesses are abundant on college campuses, where "comfort" (removing anything that disturbs or offends anyone) rather then "challenge" (bringing out different viewpoints that challenge our views and assumptions) is becoming the norm. Professors have to issue "trigger warnings," whenever they want to discuss topics that some students might find uncomfortable, and demonstrations and hecklings have become commonplace on campuses when someone with a polar-opposite view to a group of students is scheduled to speak. Talks are often cancelled or rescheduled for fear of the speakers' safety.
The authors begin by reviewing what they call the three untruths:
- Children are fragile: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.
- Our instincts are accurate judges of people and things: Always trust your feelings.
- The world is us-versus-them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
Borrowing a term from Nassim Nicholas Taleb of the "Black Swan" fame, the authors assert that human beings are anti-fragile, which means that not only they don't break at the slightest physical or mental discomfort, but they are literally rendered stronger by what doesn't kill them (with a few extreme exceptions, such as physical or sexual abuse). Extreme coddling of children and curtailment of their freedom is driven by two misguided views, the fear of abduction and the desire for them to get into elite institutions of higher learning. Children's creativity in fact suffers from too much homework and test-prep.
The common advice that if it feels right/wrong, then it is right/wrong is fraught with danger. While our emotions and instincts are accurate in many instances, they tend to mislead us in many other situations. Emotional reactions sometimes lead to "catastrophizing" of events and being inordinately affected by what have become known as micro-aggressions. Highly emotional reactions to events are the main causes of distrust and angry confrontations.
Us-versus-them ("tribalizing") leads to a version of identity politics, the common-enemy type, which is detrimental to our advancement and well-being. It leads to tribe-like hostilities that turn disagreements into open conflicts. On the other hand, the common-humanity type of identity politics (yes, we are all different, but what we share is more important than our differences) leads to greater peace of mind and better societal outcomes.
After delineating the problems in Part 1, the authors proceed to review the recent history of campus protests and confrontations, utilizing threats, intimidation, witch hunts, and the like, in Part 2. Part 3 focuses on major causes for the recent intolerance for controversial ideas. Part 4 wraps up the book with the authors' suggestions about how campuses and students can reorient themselves through the recongnition that people are resilient and can grow when exposed to challenge and controversy. Two appendices help the readers learn CBT (cognitive behavioral training) and outline the Chicago Statement of tolerance for diversity of viewpoints, which has been adopted by many campuses.
[The book's Web site; The Chicago Statement (PDF)]

2020/06/15 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking on the UCSB campus on a very pleasant, but rather windy, Saturday afternoon UCSB has installed a few solar-powered charging stations for electronic devices Some points of interest in the western city of Kermanshah, Iran
So, you want a statue to celebrate our civilization and history? How's this statue? Racial harmony exists in our children but we somehow manage to teach it out of them before they become adults! Tweets from Trump on kneeling by a black athlete and by a white cop (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Walking at UCSB on a very pleasant, but rather windy, Saturday afternoon. [Top center] UCSB has installed a few solar-powered charging stations for electronic devices: Solar cells are atop the umbrella and battery cells are in two benches on either side. [Top right] Some points of interest in the city of Kermanshah, Iran (credit: ISNA). [Bottom left] So, you want a statue to celebrate our civilization and history? How's this statue, which commemorates April 13, 1985, when housewife Danuta Danielsson whopped Neo-Nazi Seppo Seluska with her handbag to become a local hero in Varberg, Sweden? [Bottom center] Racial harmony exists in our children but we somehow manage to teach it out of them before they become adults! [Bottom right] Tweets from Trump on kneeling: 104 devoted to the black athlete who protested, without hurting anyone; 0 devoted to the white cop who suffocated someone to death by kneeling on his neck.
(2) US Supreme Court deals two setbacks to Trump: It rules 6-3 that anti-discrimination laws do protect the LGBTQ+ community and, in a separate case, dismisses the challenge to California's sanctuary-cities law.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Quote of the day: "If we stop testing right now, we'd have very few cases, if any!" ~ Donald Trump
- Trump's love affair with NK's Kim Jong has fizzled, so he is starting a new bromance with Iran's Ali Joon.
- Persian music: Ebi performs "Poost-e Shir" ("Lion's Hide"), accompanied by guitarist Babak Amini.
- Fusion music: An oldie, with Spanish & Persian lyrics, performed by Faramarz Aslani and Babak Amini.
(4) The true story of an iconic Persian song: "Maraa Beboos" ("Kiss Me") is a 6-decades-old song, originally written by Majid Vafadar for the movie "Ettehaam" ("Accusation"). In this 6-minute video, Vafadar's niece sets the record straight and quells the rumors that have been floating around about the song's authorship and inspiration, and its politicization by left-wing groups.
[P.S.: There are alternate accounts of this history, including an article in Encyclopedia Iranica.]
(5) America's four major problems: The coronavirus pandemic, protests for racial justice, economic downturn, and the military's increasing distaste for the Commander-in-Chief's inclination to bring them into the streets. Not one of these was addressed in Trump's West Point speech!

2020/06/14 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Walking around the UCSB lagoon on a gorgeous late-spring afternoon: Batch 1 of photos Graduation site in 2020: A view of UCSB's Faculty Club Green Walking around the UCSB lagoon on a gorgeous late-spring afternoon: Batch 2 of photos
Flowers on the UCSB Campus, photographed on Friday afternoon: Batch 1 A different kind of graduation weekend: Far fewer photo shoots and moving vans! Flowers on the UCSB Campus, photographed on Friday afternoon: Batch 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Walking around the UCSB lagoon on a gorgeous late-spring afternoon. [Top center] Graduation site: Here's a view of UCSB's Faculty Club Green, which would normally be hidden under a giant stage and hundreds of chairs for multiple graduation ceremonies on Friday (when the photo was taken) and over the weekend. [Bottom left & right] Flowers on the UCSB Campus. [Bottom center] A different kind of graduation weekend: On the days leading to graduation ceremonies, UCSB is filled with graduates and family members trying to shoot photos in front of important campus landmarks. There were only a few such groups on Friday afternoon and a handful of moving vans, given the sparse presence of students on campus. There was also far less trash and discarded items on the streets connecting my home to the campus.
(2) A page from Jay Forrester's notebook of 71 years ago: Proposal for magnetic core memory elements that were used to build random-access main memories for early digital computers of the 1950s.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The Obamas are trending on social media: These are special gifts to President Trump on his 74th birthday!
- Can you imagine Trump in such poses with former Presidents and/or First Ladies? Me neither!
- "Black Hole": This 3-minute British film from 2008, depicting human greed, has won multiple awards.
- Practical demo of acoustic physics: Playing the sax in front of an open gas pipeline. [1-minute video]
(4) Persian music: The oldie song "Khandeh Khandeh" is performed by Elaheh, with Majid Vafadar and his orchestra, in this grainy video. Here is a better-quality sound file.
(5) The building that housed Iran's first radio station: It now provides extra working space for the adjacent Ministry of Communications and serves as a museum of radio. [6-minute video]
(6) Final thought for the day: I wonder why no one has pointed out that Trump's recent physical difficulties may be side effects of hydroxychloroquine, perhaps a reason for FDA to revoke its authorization of the drug for the treatment of COVID-19.

2020/06/13 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Linguistic composition of Iran: Map from Persian Heritage web site. Newsweek magazine cover: The end of Hong Kong, as Beijing gobbles it up A UCSB 2020 woman graduate on a campus photo shoot (1) Images of the day: [Left] Linguistic composition of Iran: Map from Persian Heritage web site. [Top right] Newsweek magazine cover: The end of Hong Kong, as Beijing gobbles it up. [Bottom right] The graduating class at UCSB and other colleges make do with individual photo shoots on campus, as they enter a highly unusual job market (photo credit: The UCSB Current).
(2) Insect-size robots might one day help us explore other planets: Bulky rovers are too inflexible and slow, and human participation is too dangerous, for exploration on the surface of other planets. CSUN scientists bet on swarms of tiny robots to help us explore far and wide.
(3) Cybercriminals extort universities: They steal sensitive information and then threaten to share it on the dark web, unless a ransom is paid. Michigan State, UCSF, and Columbia College Chicago have all been targeted by the NetWalker malicious software and given 6 days to pay as yet undisclosed amounts.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Conspiracy-Theorist-in-Chief's Press Secretary accuses others of spreading conspiracy theories! [Image]
- Trump's campaign rhetoric, revised for 2020: They are bringing drugs, they are bringing coronavirus, ...
- My new Facebook cover photo reminds us all of the primacy of racial harmony and racial justice.
- Chess grandmaster Ghazal Hakimifard plays for Switzerland, because Iran forced her to play in hijab.
(5) The Art of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump: This is the title of a new book by Mary Jordan, asserting that Melania learned about Donald's relationships with women during the 2016 campaign and delayed her move to the White House as leverage in negotiating a new pre-nup. Melania's office calls it "fiction."
(6) On defunding the police: My fellow-liberals have developed a habit of putting their feet in their mouths when it comes to messaging. The latest episode has to do with calls for "defunding the police." When asked in interviews about what they mean by the phrase, they invariably reply that they do not want to abolish the police but to reform it, overhaul its training procedures, improve its community relations, demilitarize it, and redirect some of the funding to programs that provide appropriate remedies to problems such as homelessness and mental illness that in essence are not law-enforcement problems. Defunding a program or activity is synonymous with eliminating it. Calling for the elimination of something, and then explaining that we don't really mean that, is self-defeating. The 10-second sound bytes of today's news leave no time for additional explanation. We have to make sure that the headlines or sound bytes capture the essence our message. If we don't really want to eliminate the police, then we should not use the word "defund."

2020/06/12 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tweet: Trump checking off Russia's to-do list Cartoon: Old artistic tree Cartoon strip: The terrorist group calling itself 'AARP' teaches its members secret tactics to use against the police! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Russia's to-do list for weakening the US, as shown at a NATO meeting last year: Judge for yourself how much of this strategy has been implemented by Trump. [Top right] Cartoon of the day: Old artistic tree. [Bottom right] Cartoon strip: The terrorist group calling itself "AARP" teaches its members secret tactics to use against the police!
(2) Racism exposed: University of Louisiana Monroe fires one instructor, Dennis Bell, for posting racist slurs and has started the termination process for Mary Holmes, who will not be teaching during fall 2020.
(3) Mike Pence, Head of the US Coronavirus Task Force, with Trumps campaign staff (photo): No mask. No social-distancing. No shame. The guidelines he issues apply only to us, mere mortals!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Someone, whom Trump called SOB, receives Amnesty International's highest honor. [#ColinKaepernick]
- Five under-age kids orphaned in Los Angeles when their parents die of coronavirus one day apart.
- Tim Cook announces a $100 million Apple commitment to promoting racial justice.
- Spirit MER-A Robotic Rover traveled to and was deployed on Mars in 2003-2004 (5-minute animated film).
- Moving a 2600-ton building in China: Time-lapse video.
- Persian music: The oldie song "Bot-e Chin," performed inside what appears to be a historic carvan-
- Persian music: Faezeh performs "Asir-e Daam-e To," an oldie song made famous by Delkash.
- Persian poetry: Kory Yazdani sets Houshang Ebtehaj's poem "Flight of the Ash" to Leonard Cohen's music.
(5) Patriarchy in action: This 2-minute Persian video-essay sounds interesting and enlightened, until we realize that it promotes manhood and manliness as attributes that women should aspire to. This attitude is a result of centuries of patriarchy that has programmed us to equate manliness with a virtue and womanliness with a liability. So, a strong, virtuous woman aspires to, and takes pride in, being "manlier than a man"!
(6) After months of coyness and playing it safe, Facebook chief finally takes a stand against Trump's dishonesty and divisiveness: "We are deeply shaken and disgusted by President Trump's divisive and incendiary rhetoric at a time when our nation so desperately needs unity."
(7) Can you imagine being a black soldier or officer assigned to a military base bearing the name of a confederate general who fought, and in some cases gave his life, for maintaining slavery?

2020/06/11 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Gakutensoku: World's first friendly robot built in 1929 My paper on evaluating research quality and impact Taking guns to protest sites is ill-advised (1) Images of the day: [Left] Gakutensoku: World's first friendly robot built in 1929 (see the last item below). [Center] My paper on evaluating research quality and impact (see the next item below). [Right] Taking guns to protest sites is ill-advised: A mistake or mis-step separates armed men appearing at racial-justice protests to "keep a watch on illegal behavior" from armed conflict. A group of citizens cannot declare moral superiority to control another group (photo from NPR).
(2) "On Research Quality and Impact: What Five Decades in Academia Has Taught Me": This is the title of an invited paper that I have just finished and submitted to J. Compter Science and Engineering. As the title implies, this work represents an effort to share with my younger colleagues in academia and elsewhere some metrics and pitfalls in assessing research quality and impact. Hope some of you find it useful. I will post a final version after the paper's acceptance. [PDF] [A couple of clarifications]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Blatantly racist post by nursing professor at ULM makes all higher-education teachers cringe in disbelief.
- As we are distracted by a pandemic and racial-justice protests, Iran ramps up its persecution of Baha'is.
- Wonderful performance of "Hava Nagila" by three players on one guitar. [2-minute video]
- Those who remember old Indian movies (now called Bollywood films) will enjoy this 6-minute musical clip.
(4) Now that spring-quarter teaching is over and grades have been reported for my freshman seminar course, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering," I am getting comments, such as this one, from students:
"I greatly appreciate the online lectures you have been providing ... Ever since I have watched your online lectures, I have taken great interest in computer engineering in general, and I have enjoyed approaching certain engineering problems as puzzles that you have provided. You have changed my overall perspective of this field of engineering, and I just want to spend time to say that I feel appreciative for this reason."
(5) "The Short Strange Life of the First Friendly Robot": This is the title of a fascinating article by Yulia Frumer, published in IEEE Spectrum magazine's June 2020 issue. Biologist Makoto Nishimura's giant robot, Gakutensoku ("learning from the rules of nature"), toured through Asia after its creation in 1929, appearing before enthusiastic audiences, but then it was lost under mysterious circumstances in the 1930s. The faintly-smiling robot was 3+ meters tall and had pneumatic mechanisms inside its head that allowed it to move its eyes, mouth, and neck. A faithful replica of the robot was built during 2007-2008 at a cost of $200,000 and is now sitting in a museum. The designers did not have much to go on (no blueprints or other documentation), just a few grainy B&W photos and a handful of articles written by Nishimura and others.

2020/06/10 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
GRiD Compass rugged laptop Entering a flight at the airport or ICU at the hospital? The classic Sinclair Scientific Calculator (1) Images of the day: [Left] GRiD Compass rugged laptop (see the next item below). [Center] Entering a flight at the airport or ICU at the hospital? [Right] The classic Sinclair Scientific (see the last item below).
(2) The first laptop in orbit: The GRiD (Graphical Retrieval Information Display) Compass was the first to use a clamshell design. The laptop's 21.6-cm plasma screen was bright and could be viewed from any angle and under any lighting conditions. NASA used the laptop on Space Shuttle missions through the early 1990s. The rugged 4.5-kg laptop, costing $8150 ($23,000 in today's money) reportedly survived the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger crash. [Source: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of June 2020]
(3) Colleges dealt one-two punch by COVID-19: On top of income reduction and rising expenses, they are expected to receive less in philanthropic donations over the next few years.
(4) COVID-19 may have plagued China as early as October 2019: Satellite photos, showing a near-doubling of the number of cars parked at some Chinese hospitals in October 2019 compared with the previous year, and records of heavy Internet searches for "chills" and "diarrhea," indicate that China hid coronavirus from the world far longer than previously thought.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US GDP predicted to fall by 5.9% for 2020, the sharpest yearly decline since the 11.6% drop of 1946.
- Cartoon of the day: The end isn't near. We're just beginning to have a serious dialogue about race. [Image]
- Wow, what a talent: Creating realistic clay sculptures from photos. [4-minute video]
- Iranian regional music: Hossein Zarouri performs "Jaan-e Maryam," with a big orchestra and choir.
(6) Trump retweets his son Eric's tweet on reopening of Trump Doral Miami: In 15 minutes, he gets 14.6K likes, 3.6K comments, and 3.5K retweets. How is this not using the office of presidency for personal gain?
(7) Internet of animals: IoT applied to live animals (both domesticated species and wildlife) becomes IoA. Potential applications include ranch herd management and monitoring of endangered species in the wild.
(8) Reverse-engineering a classic calculator: The Sinclair Scientific digital calculator was a hit upon its introduction in 1974. "Cleverly written firmware dragooned its limited processor, intended only for basic arithmetic, into performing way beyond specifications. This allowed Sinclair to sell a scientific calculator to countless folks who otherwise could not have afforded one. But it was also slow and sometimes inaccurate, provided barely enough mathematical functions to qualify as a scientific calculator, and was difficult for the uninitiated to use." [From: IEEE Spectrum magazine, issue of June 2020]

2020/06/09 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Panoramic view of a nearly-dry Devereux Slough in Goleta, California
How to build a leaning tower: Indian style Sign: Treat racism like COVID-19. Assume you have it. Listen to experts about it. Don't spread it. Be willing to change your life to end it. Sara Gideon has opened a lead over Susan Collins in their Senate race (1) Images of the day: [Top] Panoramic view of a nearly-dry Devereux Slough in Goleta, California, this evening around 8:00, as the sun was starting to set (actual panorama on Facebook). [Left] How to build a leaning tower: Indian style (could be a PhotoShopped image). [Center] Great advice re "Black Lives Matter": Treat racism like COVID-19. Assume you have it. Listen to experts about it. Don't spread it. Be willing to change your life to end it. [Right] Trump enablers must be kicked out! Susan Collins isn't the worst of them, but it is encouraging that her opponent, Sara Gideon, has opened a lead in their Senate race.
(2) Yes, we support law & order too: That's why we don't want a president who considers himself above the law and repeatedly dishonors and breaks the supreme law of our land, the US Constitution. [Trump tweet]
(3) Trump loves a sawtooth-shaped stock market curve: He just distracts us to something else when it falls and claims credit for each rise! [Trump tweet]
(4) Challenging math puzzle: Given a positive integer n, compute f(n) as follows. Begin with n. Round the value up to the nearest multiple of n – 1. Then, round up the new value to the nearest multiple of n – 2. Continue in this manner until you have rounded up to the nearest multiple of 2.
What is the limit of g(n) = (n^2)/f(n) as n tends to infinity?
[Example] f(10): 10 -> 18 -> 24 -> 28 -> 30 -> 32 -> 33 -> 34; g(10) = (10^2)/f(10) = 2.941
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The US becomes a role model again: Mexico and several other countries protest against police brutality.
- Ivanka Trump remains as clueless as ever amid economic struggles and demands for racial justice.
- Ben Carson: "Reserve judgment on Trump until he speaks again." Dozens of daily tweets don't count?
- Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's essay "Reflections on the Color of My Skin." [18-minute video]
- The Pacific Ocean, around 8:00 PM today, as viewed from Goleta's Coal Oil Point Beach. [2-minute video]
(6) Int'l Symp. on Computer Architecture has honored a paper by UCSD scientists Dean Tullsen, Rakesh Kumar, and Victor Zyuban with its 2020 Influential Paper Award. The paper, originally presented in 2005, offered new ways of modeling the impact of interconnections on power and performance in multiprocessor chips. The paper was the first to measure real multi-core designs to assess the global trade-offs of interconnect design decisions.
(7) ACM ByteCast, Episode 2: Donald Knuth, winner of the 1974 A. M. Turing Award, discusses "what led him to discover his love of computing as well as writing about computer programming, his outlook on how people learn technical skills, how his mentorship has helped him write 'human oriented' programs, the problems he is still working to solve, and how his dissatisfaction with early digital typesetting led him to develop TeX, as well as his interest in playing and composing music for the pipe organ."

2020/06/08 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Black hand holding white hand, with US flag in the background Elnaz Abedini: A multi-talented vocalist, who is equally at ease with opera, pop classics, and Persian music  Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine's June 2020 issue (1) Images of the day: [Left] To those who dislike "Black Lives Matter" and want to replace it with "All Lives Matter": Do you also scream "All Cancers" when someone posts about breast-cancer awareness? Did you proclaim "All Cities" when people expressed solidarity with Las Vegas or Paris after mass shootings in those cities? Raising awareness and offering support to one abused or oppressed group in no way discredits or diminishes other groups. [Center] Elnaz Abedini: A multi-talented vocalist, who is equally at ease with opera, pop classics, and Persian music ("Caro Mio Ben" Arietta | "Smile" | "Sari Gelin" | "Man-o Gonjishka"). [Right] Cover image of IEEE Computer magazine, June 2020, featuring my article (see the last item below).
(2) BLM movement's surprising ally: Has the NFL finally seen the light in the realm of racial justice, or did it simply realize it won't make any money or even exist without black athletes?
(3) Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian resigns from board: He asks that his seat be filled with a black candidate, commits $1 million to Colin Kaepernick's nonprofit "Know Your Rights" Camp, and promises future donations to serve the Black community and curb racial hate. Ohanian cited his family, tennis-star wife Serena Williams and black daughter, who might one day ask him, "What did you do?"
(4) Racial awareness keeps growing: The very first Sambo's Restaurant, that grew from Santa Barbara to a nationwide chain of hundreds, and the last one still bearing the racially-charged name ("Sambo" is a derogatory term used for a person having mixed blood) opts to change its name. The name was formed in 1957 from "Sam" and "Bo," initial letters in the last names of its founders.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Needed: A leader to allay the fears and soothe the anger, rather than look for praise and photo-ops.
- Ben & Jerry's gets political: Its latest ice-cream flavor is "Pecan Resist" (see if you can resist it)!
- Fusion music: "Lambada," performed Persian style. Or is it Greek style? [3-minute video]
- Persian music/history: The central Iranian city of Esfahan, as it looked ~55 years ago. [4-minute video]
(6) Lists of former (41) and deceased (10) faculty members of Sharif University of Technology's Electrical Engineering Department: I note that one faculty member who was reportedly executed after the Islamic Revolution does not appear on the deceased list. I have no doubt that the list of former faculty members is also incomplete for ideological reasons. [Web page]
(7) My article in IEEE Computer magazine's June 2020 issue: Chosen as the lead cover feature for a special "Cyberthreats" issue, the article, entitled "Reliability Inversion: A Cautionary Tale" (Vol. 53, No. 6, pp. 28-33), points out the dangers lurking when we compare systems with respect to reliability. In brief, reliability calculations provide lower bounds, as opposed to exact values, and a lower bound for R1 being larger than a lower bound for R2 does not imply R1 > R2. [Full-text PDF]

2020/06/07 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iranian woman in traditional clothes, photographed by Amin Sedaghaty in front of Persian rugs: Photo 1 Long-range turbine-powered cargo drones are coming: The June 2020 'IEEE Spectrum' cover feature Iranian woman in traditional clothes, photographed by Amin Sedaghaty in front of Persian rugs: Photo 2
'Black Lives Matter' doesn't mean that only Black lives matter Milad Tower, Tehran, Iran, against a full moon Colorful field of flowers (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Iranian woman in traditional clothes, photographed by Amin Sedaghaty in front of Persian rugs. [Top center] Long-range turbine-powered cargo drones are coming: The June 2020 IEEE Spectrum cover feature. [Bottom left] How to explain to your relatives and friends, who care more about looting than violations of civil rights, the "Black Lives Matter" movement and its aspirations. [Bottom center] Milad Tower, Tehran, Iran, against a full moon. [Bottom right] Colorful field of flowers.
(2) NFL reverses course: Commissioner Roger Goodell admits that the league was wrong in its treatment of protesting athletes. Quarterback Drew Brees apologizes and tells Trump that kneeling isn't about the flag.
(3) A virtual graduation event: The Obamas and an array of other notables, including Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Malala Yousafzai, help graduates celebrate on YouTube, June 7, 2020, 12 noon PDT.
(4) Our age in 2020: Some friends posted that they won't add a year to their age on their next birthday, because they haven't actually lived this year. Others think we have aged by a couple of years just in the first half of 2020. What's your take?
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ivanka Trump's commencement address cancelled over the President's reaction to George Floyd's murder.
- Jewish-Iranian immigrant, 81, loses his Melrose Ave. store, which included much in personal memorabilia.
- Short history of women singing in Iran: This 7-minute video is loaded with memorable singers and songs.
(6) The First Couple diverge on Twitter: While Donald Trump peddles law & order and domination of the streets, Melania Trump has been tweeting about peace & healing and taking care of one another.
(7) Of interest to readers who are in the market for a new car or upgrade/trade: Car buying/leasing experience is more torturous than ever these days. I have been in touch with Goleta's Honda dealership, and the Toyota dealership as a back-up, in case of poor service from Honda. Poor service is what I got! I have been looking at various options, to upgrade my current leased car from the basic Accord LX to an Accord EX-L (or a comparable Toyota Camry), with leather interior, sun/moon-roof, and a few new electronic safety features.
It seems that, given the interruption in the supply of new cars, dealers are trying to make as much money as they can from their existing stock. They are utterly inflexible in their pricing (lease and purchase) and very devious in telling you up-front about all the costs. Of course, car salespeople have always been dishonest, but they have taken it to a new level, to maximize their sales commissions, which I assume have dropped due to the dismal economic conditions. Dealers also seem to be reluctant to swap cars to serve a customer whose desired car isn't in stock in his/her home location. I even experienced a case of bait-and-switch, where I was told my desired car was in stock, only to find out that they had a fully-loaded model with ~$6000 in additional options and $180 extra in monthly payment.
In the end, after also considering cars offered by Hertz, the rental-car company which has declared bankruptcy, I decided to pay the residual purchase price on my current Honda Accord and keep it until the car sales/lease market conditions improve.

2020/06/06 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Remembering D-Day (June 6, 1944) A few memes related to Black America's struggle for racial justice These were George Floyd's last words, as a racist cop casually knelt on his neck
Washington, DC, street: 'Black Lives Matter,' painted in giant letters Iranian-American Jews support racial justice Role reversals: Mother and child! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Remembering D-Day (June 6, 1944): The annual commemoration of the Allied landings in Normandy is muted this year by the pandemic and racial unrest in the US. [Top center] A few memes related to Black America's struggle for racial justice. [Top right] These were George Floyd's last words, as a racist cop casually knelt on his neck. [Bottom left] Washington, DC, street: "Black Lives Matter," painted in giant letters. [Bottom center] Every professional and social group with which I am associated has condemned racial prejudice and supported the BLM movement. [Bottom right] Role reversals: Mother and child!
(2) We are keeping a record of physical deaths from COVID-19: Some suggest that we are under-counting, but at least efforts are made to keep track of the casualties. Tracking of the mental-health toll is woefully lacking.
(3) Talk about clueless: George Floyd is looking down with satisfaction at the jobless rate shrinking from 14.7% in April to 13.3% in May, according to Trump!
(4) The market shot up for, and Trump boasted about, a fake reduction in the US unemployment rate: Let's see if either one offers a correction. An error described as "misclassification" reduced the May unemployment rate by ~3%, so the rate actually went up from 14.7% in April to about 16.3% in May, as predicted by economists.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The pandemic showed us the importance of two things: Universal healthcare and free higher education.
- Jews should support BLM, given our past experience and rising anti-Semitism fueled by the Hater-in-Chief.
- A new viral challenge: Taking a photo with a book you haven't read in front of a building you never enter.
- Cartoon caption of the day: "No, Mr. President, D-Day was not named after you!"
- Michael Jackson music ("They Don't Care About Us"), played Persian style on Tar!
- Persian music: Wonderful piece in the style of (if not actually from) early 20th century. [6-minute video]
- Persian music: Darya Dadvar's musical tribute to the medical personnel battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
(6) Khamenei's deceit revealed: Fact-checking is all the rage these days. In the US, fact-checkers have the unenviable task of keeping up with the increasing rate of Trump's lies and misleading statements. Iranwire has just fact-checked a 30-minute speech by Khamenei, uncovering 10 untruthful statements.
(7) Axis of corruption: Iran's three branches of government are now headed by corrupt individuals. President Rouhani's brother is serving a 5-year prison term for corruption, enabled by his proximity to the country's power centers. Rouhani himself has not been formally implicated, but it is difficult to imagine that he was unaware of his brother's misdeeds. Rouhani has threatened on multiple occasions to expose corrupt individuals, but his remaining silent is an indication that the other power centers have "compromat" on him. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the new Speaker of the Parliament, has links to some of Iran's worst corruption scandals. Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's Head of Judiciary, was a member of a notorious Death Commission, which approved and oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s. He also faces allegations of financial misappropriations both before and after assuming his current position.

2020/06/05 (Friday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image of 'Conversations with RBG,' by Jeffrey Rosen Cover image of 'The Education of an Idealist,' by Samantha Power Cover image of Julie Andrews' memoir 'Home Work' (1) Book review: Rosen, Jeffrey, Conversations with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Peter Ganim and Suzanne Toren, Macmillan Audio, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Based on conversations he conducted with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the 1990s to the present, Rosen, National Constitution Center's President, paints a unique portrait of RBG that shows her careful, minimalist approach to constitutional law, humanity, compassion, sense of humor, exercise regimen, love of opera, and astounding friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia (subject of the "Scalia/Ginsburg Opera" composed by Derrick Wang).
Among the topics discussed are the Court's Roe v. Wade decision and whether it will be overturned, her approach to and favorite dissents, the role of precedents, the #MeToo movement, the four women who have served on the Supreme Court, husband Marty's support and cooking skills, confirmation hearings then-and-now, and the Court's future.
I was surprised to learn that at the time of RBG's appointment to the Court, many feminists were against her, because she had opined that the Court over-reached in its Roe v. Wade decision. She would have preferred to see a decision to strike down the specific extreme Texas law before the Court, fearing that generalizing and issuing a broad opinion actually antagonized anti-abortion forces, who became much more animated in their opposition.
This book is filled with both serious legal arguments and personal anecdotes. The discussions of voting rights and gerrymandering are superb. So is Ginsburg relating an advice she received early in her marriage from her mother-in-law: "It helps sometimes to be a little deaf," which she took to mean that you should just tune out any unkind words.
(2) Book review: Power, Samantha, The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, Dey Street Books, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Power, a fierce advocate of human rights and one of the "foremost thinkers on foreign policy," according to former President Obama, has lived the American dream, rising from an immigrant to a cabinet official. She served as Obama's advisor on foreign policy and human rights for four years and then became the youngest American to be named US Ambassador to the United Nations. While telling her life story, Power also answers the question of whether one person can make a difference in today's complex and highly-contentious world with a resounding "yes."
Power began her career as a journalist covering the genocide of Bosnian Muslims, which led to her writing the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. In The Education of an Idealist, Power weaves together four stories seamlessly and masterfully: Her personal journey, her family story, including raising two children as she held what many consider to be a 24/7 job, diplomatic history, and moral dilemmas in politics.
The jobs of presidential advisor and UN Ambassador are tough even on the most-pragmatic individuals, so they are nothing less than torture for an idealist, who must decide every day whether she has had enough and can't take it any more, or strike a compromise to be able to take her fight to the next day. Power discusses her challenges and moral dilemmas openly and honestly, giving the reader a window into her regular fights, including with Obama, who alternated between seeking her opinion and putting his realist hat on to dismiss her advice.
Power argued for intervention in Syria, a battle she eventually lost. It is very difficult to judge, even with the benefit of hindsight, whether we would have been better off if Obama had taken her advice instead of avoiding intervention and a third Middle-East war, thus giving the Syria-Russia-Iran axis an open hand in running the show. The younger Power probably would not approve of her older self, who witnessed misery during a visit to Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria, countries involved in a vicious fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram, and contributed to the misery when her team's car hit and killed a young boy.
Having been in the no-win zone between idealism and realism, I very much identified with Power's equivocations. The Education of an Idealist is most-certainly among the best books I have read in recent years, in terms of both content and writing style.
(3) Book review: Andrews, Julie (with Emma Walton Hamilton), Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Julie Andrews, Hachette Audio, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I was surprised to learn that this Julie Andrews book, a collaboration with her daughter Emma, is her second memoir, the first one having been titled Home: A Memoir of My Early Years. Andrews recaps those early years at the beginning of this new memoir, which details her transformation from a traveling vaudeville performer to a Hollywood superstar, most-famous for her roles in "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music." It seems that from a young age, Andrews was her family's provider, having paid household expenses and helping to keep a roof over their head.
The prose is frank and intimate, laced with humor and sassy gossip, including her treatment by tabloids. Andrews discusses many private matters (insecurities, therapy sessions, and feeling of lack of control over her career) openly. In describing the divorce from her first husband, costume designer Tony Walton, which happened after she had met and begun to "seriously date" director Blake Edwards (of "The Pink Panther" and "The Party" fame), Andrews confesses that she felt like a failure. It seems that Andrews being tied to the movie industry in Hollywood and Walton's attachment to the theater scene in New York City was instrumental in their marriage falling apart.
One can't help but be awestruck by how Andrews pulled it all together in her Hollywood years, living with a wildly creative but very moody Edwards (occasional prescription-drugs abuser), balancing the demands and visitation calendars of three children, one from her first marriage and two from Edwards' first marriage, plus two adopted children, managing the antics of a druggie brother, and dealing with the crazy work and travel schedules of an international mega-star. Andrews tells us that she wasn't in control of her career and personal life, despite outward appearances.
One disappointment is that movies and her co-workers/co-stars are discussed superficially, for the most part. Instead, the focus is on family juggling acts which she had to perform in order to get to do the films. Perhaps, a third memoir that details her professional life will be forthcoming: Home, Home Work, Work (?). Or, it could be that Andrews' conservative disposition makes it impossible for her to describe her relationships with, and feelings toward, co-workers in greater detail.
Both memoirs of Andrews have been very well-received. I highly recommend this second one to the fans and non-fans of Dame Julie Andrews. Try to get the audiobook, if you can, as hearing the words in Andrews' own voice, and elegant British-English accent ("aafter," "baasket," "tomaato"), is a special treat.

2020/06/04 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Text examples: Today's Persian vs. refined Persian Cover image of 'Pure Persian Dictionary' Text examples: Pure Persian vs. eloquent pure Persian (1) Pure Persian Dictionary's cover and sample texts with various degrees of purity (see the last item below).
(2) Former Defense Secretary James Mattis sees Trump as a threat to the US Constitution: In his published memoir, he wrote that as a military-man, he won't speak ill of a sitting president. I guess he has decided that he can't take any more of this nonsense! All four living former US Presidents join retired General James Mattis in supporting the "Black Lives Matter" protesters. [My review of Mattis's memoir on GoodReads]
(3) Stocks are rising, as the pandemic, record-high unemployment, and civil-rights protests continue: Another evidence that the market has little to do with the economic well-being of the average American.
(4) University of California's Academic Council statement on current US events: Let's observe a moment of silence at 11:00 AM PDT on Thursday 6/04, when memorial services for George Floyd start in Minneapolis.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- No president has had a pandemic, an economic depression, and race riots, all at the same time. MAGA!
- One racist kicked out, many more to go: Rep. Steve King has lost in Iowa's Republican primary election.
- Haircut: Check. Dental cleaning: Check. Still far from normalcy, but at least I'm starting to look normal!
- Art heals: Wonderful artistic collaboration between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and dancer Lil' Buck.
(6) Signs of the times: Many of my fellow Iranian-Americans screaming "Law and Order" have experienced bigotry, xenophobia, and oppression first hand. So, their lack of compassion for the legitimate claims of the African-American community is quite puzzling. [Photos] [Cute protest sign] [Memes of the day]
(7) Iranian authorities shed crocodile tears over George Floyd's death: The same authorities, mind you, who used roof-top snipers and security forces armed with machine guns to kill hundreds (by some accounts, thousands) during Iran's street protests. [Photos]
(8) FIFA to suspend Iran's membership: The world soccer body has given Iran until June 5 to comply with its rules, which prohibit governmental interference in the affairs of a country's soccer federation. Dozens of other violations are also involved.
(9) Today's Persian, refined Persian, and pure Persian: Over the last two centuries (Kia, 1998), there have been movements to reestablish a pure form of the Persian language and to encourage Persian speakers and writers to avoid the use of foreign (primarily Arabic, English, and French) words. As has been the case elsewhere in the world, the task of purifying a language is a tough one, and it encounters much resistance. In the case of Iran, the task of getting rid of Arabic words and constructs is rendered more difficult by a regime whose very survival depends on the infiltration of the Arabic language and cultural norms. Here is a good example. Government documents tend to refer to "zanaan" ("women") and "mardaan" ("men") by the Arabic words "nesvaan" and "rejaal," respectively. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for these substitutions. For other words, the situation is more complicated. Sometimes a word or concept is too well-established to be changed by edict. In a WhatsApp group with old friends, we have been discussing appropriate Persian equivalents for Arabic words such as "ekhteraa'" ("invention"; "no-aafarini"?) and "ebdaa'" ("innovation"; "no-aavari"?), English words such as "luxury" (pronounced as "luck-cherry" by Persian speakers) and "start-up" (no equivalents yet), and other technical and semi-technical terms. Moving one notch down from pure Persian, one may be satisfied with refined Persian, as exemplified by the following passage from the front-matter in a dictionary of pure Persian, published by Iran's Academy of Persian Language (PDF).
Reference: Mehrdad Kia (1998), "Persian Nationalism and the Campaign for Language Purification," Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 9-36, April.

2020/06/03 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nasir al-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran The Hezar-Tappeh ('Thousand Hills') region in Iran's Golestan Province A deep-blue section of Shah Mosque in Esfahan, Iran
Photos from my evening walk on Sunday evening, 5/31, around Goleta's Coal Oil Point and Devereux Slough: Batch 1 Photos from my evening walk on Sunday evening, 5/31, around Goleta's Coal Oil Point and Devereux Slough: Batch 2 Photos from my evening walk on Sunday evening, 5/31, around Goleta's Coal Oil Point and Devereux Slough: Batch 3 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Nasir al-Molk Mosque, Shiraz, Iran. [Top center] Hezar-Tappeh ("Thousand Hills") region in Iran's Golestan Province. [Top right] A deep-blue section of Shah Mosque in Esfahan, Iran. [Bottom row] Photos from my Sunday 5/31 evening walk around Goleta's Coal Oil Point and Devereux Slough.
(2) Racism is a global phenomenon: When we Iranian-Americans condemn racism and xenophobia in the US, we have to be mindful of the 40% support by Iran's citizens for kicking Afghan refugees out of Iran and for denying them educational and other opportunities. [Iranwire story, in Persian]
(3) Justice in America: One of the two individuals in this meme was arrested and murdered for a forged check (or bill?) of a few dollars. The other one embezzled millions of dollars in an insider-trading case and will not be investigated, after her husband made a sizable political donation.
(4) Why did the chicken cross the road (after tear-gassing everyone to make sure the road is clear)? To hold a Bible he hasn't read and does not follow in his personal and political lives for a photo-op!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Wow! So compassionate: Many arrests, overwhelming force, domination. I thank myself! [Trump tweet]
- For the first time ever, Blacks protesting police brutality are supported by a large number of Whites. [Photo]
- Looters linked to Neo-Nazi groups arrested in Georgia: I am not saying that all the looters were White.
- Justin Trudeau on US protests: Collects his thoughts, before providing a compassionate answer.
- Reposting from June 2, 2017: A conversation with Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi on women's rights in Iran.
- Farrokhi Yazdi [1889-1939] wrote these verses for the politics/politicians of his time, but they look so fresh!
(6) Iranian regional music: Live performance of the oldie Guilaki song "Banafsheh Gol" by its original singer/composer, accompanied by a representative from the new generation of Iranian singers.
(7) An interesting graphic novel: The Garden of Inside-Outside; Post-revolutionary Iran, as seen by Chiara Mezzalama, daughter of the Italian Ambassador to Iran. [BBC Persian report]
(8) Dr. Javad Ashjaee [1949-2020]: A former colleague of mine at Arya-Mehr/Sharif University of Technology in Iran, who went on to found Javad Positioning Systems (later sold to Topcon) and Javad GNSS (still operating), succumbs to coronavirus in Russia. He has been characterized as an industry disrupter and credited with many innovations by the global-positioning community. I overlapped with him for a few years at AMUT/SUT around the time of the Islamic Revolution and visited him and his company's sizable headquarters in San Jose in the 1990s. He had set up a branch of his company in Moscow to take advantage of cheap engineering talent. He told me horror stories about the threats faced by, and payoffs expected from, businesses operating there. I won't be a bit surprised if there is more to his death than the COVID-19 pandemic. He used to hire bodyguards for his stays in Moscow. Suspicious deaths and fake death certificates are quite common there. RIP.

2020/06/02 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Night view of the Chehel-Sotoon Palace, Esfahan, Iran Naghsh-e Jahan Square, Esfahan, Iran: This beautiful partial view of the famed square shows the dome of the Shah Mosque undergoing repairs Another view of Esfahan's Naghsh-e Jahan Square: This one from behind the dome of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Kurdish-speaking regions of the Middle East When an Amish-like group joins the protests demanding law-enforcement reforms, you know it's serious! Top 10 most-admired men & women in the world, 2014-2019, according to Gallup (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Night view of Kakh-e Chehel-Sotoon, Esfahan, Iran: The monument's name means "40-Column Palace," because of the reflection of its 20 columns in the pond. [Top center] Esfahan's Naghsh-e Jahan Square: This beautiful partial view of the square shows the dome of the Shah Mosque undergoing repairs. [Top right] Another view of Naghsh-e Jahan Square: This one from behind the dome of Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. [Bottom left] Kurdish-speaking regions of the Middle East (see the next item below). [Bottom center] When an Amish-like group joins the protests demanding law-enforcement reforms, you know it's serious! [Bottom right] Top 10 most-admired men & women in the world, 2014-2019, according to Gallup.
(2) Kurdish languages: Belonging to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family, Kurdish has three main dialects; Kurmanji, "Northern Kurdish," spoken by 15-20 million Kurds in all areas; Sorani, "Central Kurdish," spoken by 6-7 million Kurds in Iraq's and Iran's Kurdistan (which, along with Arabic, is one of the two official languages of Iraq), and Pehlewani, "Southern Kurdish," spoken by ~3 million Kurds in Iran's Kermanshah and Ilam Provinces and parts of Eastern Iraq, near Iran's border. [Source: Wikipedia, "Kurdish Languages"]
[P.S.: I chanced upon self-teaching books on the first two of the dialects above when browsing the Web site of ParsiAnjoman, which has a wealth of information and downloadable files on Persian and related languages.]
(3) Linux vulnerability: According to US National Security Agency, hackers from a unit within the Russian intelligence agency have been exploiting a Linux vulnerability since August 2019. A patch is already available, but NSA is publicizing the problem to ensure that the fix is applied on all systems.
(4) Kurdish singer with a warm voice: Sahar Lotfi sings "Sho Saal," "Kurdish lullaby," and "Summertime." In this video, she performs with an all-women ensemble. [Photo]
(5) How to curtail oversensing in IoT: Future homes will have hundreds of sensors used to collect data for various apps. The problem is that sensing for a particular parameter or condition inadvertently collects unrelated data that can be abused. As a case in point, motion sensors can also capture nearby sounds, including words and keystrokes. We have to figure out how to collect only the data needed by, and essential to the proper functioning of, specific applications. Oversensing occurs when authorized access to sensor data provides an application with superfluous and potentially sensitive information. [From: The "Inside Risks" column, Communications of the ACM, issue of June 2020, pp. 20-24]
(6) University of California's alert to faculty members regarding Chinese graduate students and post-docs: Further info will be forthcoming once UC has studied the impact of a new Presidential Proclamation, authorizing the State Department and DHS to stop issuing visas to, and to revoke visas of, Chinese graduate students and post-docs with connections to universities associated with the Chinese military. Unfortunately, these are some of the top universities in China. The list includes:Beijing Institute of Technology; Beihang University; Harbin Engineering University; Harbin Institute of Technology; Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Nanjing University of Science and Technology; Northwestern Polytechnical University. [Image]

2020/06/01 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme about Lindsey Graham: When it comes to duplicity, bigotry, and racism, Trump isn't our only problem. Not even close! Cartoon: Trump's new communication platform after he shuts down twitter Meme: Some Republican opinions on rape
Protesters forming a human wall to stop looters Cartoon about Iran-US relations: Crocodile tears from Khamenei over George Floyd's murder Police officers knealing to show compassion, letting the crowd know that they understand their frustrations and anger (1) Images of the day: [Top left] When it comes to duplicity, bigotry, and racism, Trump isn't our only problem. Not even close! [Top center] Cartoon of the day: Trump's new communication platform after he shuts down twitter. [Top right] Some Republican opinions on rape: I am awaiting a similar compilation of opinions on race. [Bottom left & right] You can't diffuse a tense confrontation with only threats: Cheer protesters who are forming human walls to stop looters. Encourage police officers who show compassion, letting the crowd know that they understand their frustrations and anger. [Bottom center] Cartoon about Iran-US relations: Crocodile tears from Khamenei over George Floyd's murder.
(2) New reports cast doubt on officials putting the blame for rioting on out-of-state actors. Stay tuned for more results of investigations into this matter and the underlying racism that started the whole mess.
(3) White people whining about the chaos and insecurity of the past few days refuse to acknowledge that they have been living privileged lives, at the expense of those in a permanent state of chaos and insecurity.
(4) You can be an okay real-estate developer without ever having read a book, but any high-level leader in politics or military, as General Mattis is fond of saying, must have read and digested at least hundreds of books.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- This is how you diffuse tensions: Not with threats of shooting and using vicious dogs!
- Cartoon caption: Cop to African-American boy: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Boy: "Alive!"
- Persian music: "Gol-e Goldoon-e Man" ("Flower of My Vase"), performed by Monika Jalili.
- Iranian regional music: Shardad Rohani conducts and his daughter Sara Rohani sings tho oldie "Aziz Joon."
(6) Trump is incapable of saying we have heard your voice and understand your anger: Instead of comforting words, he speaks of shooting and vicious dogs! In the absence of compassionate national leadership, the burden of calming the protesters and quelling the riots falls upon local leaders and celebrities. Rapper Killer Mike implores, "it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy."
(7) In Iran, both the people and officials are mourning George Floyd's death, but for entirely different reasons. The people hope to bring attention to even worse violence by Iranian police and security forces. The officials are trumpeting the notion that America is no champion of freedom or justice, even lnternally.
(8) Reposting from May 31, 2015: Many organizations and groups are recycling their previous programs to keep people company as they stay at home for the most part. Here is my FB post about a film screening from UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran, covering the life and work of children's songwriter Abbas Yamini Sharif [1919-1989]. [Link to the full documentary (the film starts at the 17:00 mark)]

2020/05/30 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women of Sanandaj, a city in western Iran, protest against the notion of 'honor' killing Cartoon: Trump playing with his wind-up toys of choice! Meme: If 'No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service' doesn't bother you, why do you take offense at 'No Mask, No Service'?
Alt-facts quote:'The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence' Puzzle: Pieces of the triangle at the top are rearranged to increase its area by 1 unit (the empty square). How come? Street protests turn violent in Minneapolis and other cities/states across the US (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Women of Sanandaj, a city in western Iran, protest against the notion of "honor" killing, arising from men's sense of ownership over women. [Top center] Trump playing with his wind-up toys of choice! [Top right] Meme of the day: If "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" doesn't bother you, why do you take offense at "No Mask, No Service"? [Bottom left] Alt-facts quote of the day: "The President in no way, form, or fashion has ever promoted or encouraged violence." ~ Sarah Sanders [Bottom center] Puzzle: Pieces of the triangle at the top are rearranged to increase its area by 1 unit. How come? [Bottom right] Street protests turn violent in Minneapolis and other cities/states across the US (see the last item below).
(2) George Floyd's murder: Everyone is tired of the racism awakened in this country by the Racist-in-Chief, who continues to spray fuel on the fire by calling the protesters "thugs." There is a difference between recognizing that some thugs (including Russian-sponsored trolls) are taking advantage of the situation, and insulting the entire angry, fed-up African-American community. [Tweet by Michelle Obama]
(3) SpaceX capsule taking two US astronauts to ISS left Earth earlier today: This is the first American manned space mission in 9 years and the first ever on private-company technology. Since the Space Shuttle was decommissioned, American astronauts have been traveling to International Space Station on Russian rockets.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- I think Trump should make it easy on everyone and change his Twitter handle to @altFactsDonaldTrump!
- Cities across the US impose curfews, as tensions rise in the George Floyd protests.
- Graffiti on the side of a Belgian train reads: "Please, I can't breathe." [Video]
- Puzzle: Explain how the shape and area of the rectangle remain the same after adding Pieces 6 and 7.
(5) Evidence of outside/foreign infiltration in Minnesota protests: MN Governor, Mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and MN Attorney General allege outside meddling to cause mayhem and turn the protests violent. Mayor Carter said every person arrested last night during the protests is from out of state. The Governor has reached out to Departments of Homeland Security and Defense and fully mobilized the MN National Guard.
[P.S.: New reports cast doubt on officials putting the blame for rioting on out-of-state actors. Stay tuned for more results of investigations into this matter and the underlying racism that started the whole mess.]

2020/05/29 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian poetry: A wonderful couplet from Mahasti Ganjavi Not one woman in sight in this photo from the grand-opening of a women's park in Sari, Iran! Today's Persian lesson, brought to you by the letter 'seen' ('s'), appearing in the words 'das' and 'namoos' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Persian poetry: A wonderful couplet from Mahasti Ganjavi (source: ganjoor.net). [Center] Not one woman is in sight in this photo from the grand-opening of a women's park in Sari, Iran! [Right] Today's Persian lesson, brought to you by the letter "seen" ("s"), appearing in the words "das" ("sickle") and "namoos" (broadly meaning "honor," "reputation," "chastity," and one's female relatives).
(2) US slander laws: What was it you were saying a couple of years ago about the need to strengthen slander laws, @realDonaldTrump? There is material for hundreds of lawsuits against you just in your tweets!
(3) Washington-Beijing tensions will affect American universities: Thousands of Chinese graduate students may be expelled from the US in forthcoming retaliatory measures by the Trump administration.
(4) Universities brace for tough times ahead: Almost all US states are considering massive higher-education budget cuts. Other reports indicate that graduation rates may be adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges of on-line instruction.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump vetoes bipartisan legislation that facilitates student-loan forgiveness benefiting many veterans.
- The first person arrested in the George Floyd murder case was a CNN reporter, not the murderous cop!
- Quote of the day: "A riot is the language of the unheard." ~ Martin Luther King Jr. [Tweet]
- The Swish Machine: A most-elaborate Rube Goldberg construction to put a basketball through a hoop!
- Babak Tafreshi, photographer of night skies, shows and discusses some of his work. [5-minute video]
- Amazing film from Iran's Lut Desert, after unusually heavy rainfall turned it into a land of lakes.
- Iran's nature: Slide show from photographs of Roya Barrette, enhanced by the music of Mohammad Nouri.
(6) "We Are One" Film Festival (#WeAreOne): Running on YouTube from May 29 to June 7, 2020, the on-line event is co-curated by over 20 film festivals from across the world.
(7) The COVID-19 pandemic brought drones to the forefront: The technology was ready to step in for many uses, including law-enforcement and medicine/test-kit deliveries.
(8) [Final post for the day] African-Americans have offered to trade Kanye West for Taylor Swift, who tweeted: "After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? 'When the looting starts the shooting starts'??? We will vote you out in November. @realDonaldTrump"

2020/05/28 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
There is no honor in 'honor' killings Today is World Hunger Day (photo of a malnutritioned child) The Supreme Holocaust Denier has a solution for Israel: Khamanei's published poster and who is included in it betray his intentions (1) Images of the day: [Left] There is absolutely no honor in "honor" killings (see the last item below). [Center] Today is World Hunger Day: As we are preoccupied with a pandemic, let us not forget a much bigger worldwide problem that has persisted for decades if not centuries. Those of us who continue to shelter at home and venture outside on a limited basis, should try to imagine being hungry/homeless and also afraid of contracting COVID-19! [Right] The Supreme Holocaust Denier has a solution for Israel: Khamanei's published poster and who is included in it betray his intentions.
(2) Trump threatening Twitter is ironic: He would be nothing without his Twitter account, which reaches ~80M users. At 20K apiece, he needs 4000 rallies to reach the same number of people directly and unfiltered.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- In a tweet, Trump thanks "Cowboys for Trump," a group that says "a good Democrat is a dead one."
- "GREAT DAY FOR THE DOW!!" ~ Eric Trump, on the day when deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000.
- Get to know this proud, and funny, black man better, before you call the cops on him. [Video]
- Artist's rendering of patriarchy, in the wake of Romina Ashrafi's beheading by her father. [Magazine cover]
- Recent heavy rainfall has turned Iran's Lut Desert, normally very dry, into a land of lakes. [Pictorial]
- Flattening my curve by practicing social-distancing from my refrigerator! [Cartoon]
(4) Disturbing facts about "honor" killings: Let me share with you some information that I have gleaned from posts/tweets, media stories, and interviews with various experts on Iran's laws and culture in the wake of the beheading of Romina Ashrafi by her father. "Shame killing" is a more appropriate name for such acts, but I will use the more common "honor killing," always putting "honor" in quotes.
According to Iran's penal code, which, as specified by the country's constitution (adopted after the Islamic Revolution of 1979) is based on Islamic law, a father/grandfather isn't accused of a criminal act if he kills his child/grandchild. The "reasoning" goes like this (what I write applies to a father, not grandfather, who for some odd reason is treated like a father by this law). The father created the child and has his/her best interests at heart. So, whatever he does is well-intentioned and not criminal. Note that there is no mention whatsoever of the mother's role in creating the child! The view is that man creates the child, using his sperm and and a piece of property known as "woman"!
This law is based on the medieval Arab notion that a father "owns" his child (again, no role for the mother here) and thus he can do all that's needed to "protect" and "improve" his property, just as he would confront a thief who enters his home and takes a rug or piece of jewelry, say. In the case of the stolen rug or valuable jewelry, it isn't destroyed after recovery, but a woman who is raped or runs away with a boyfriend becomes so worthless that her life has no value.
While lenient treatment for the murder of one's child isn't the primary reason for "honor" killings, it certainly provides an incentive in this regard. The roots of "honor" killings run much deeper than this backward law. Brothers, husbands, uncles, and male in-laws of a woman also commit murder to remove a "stain" from the family's reputation, and they are not similarly protected by law, although, certainly, they are treated leniently by Islamic judges who support this way of thinking.
On the surface, the law isn't misogynistic in the treatment of victims, just inhumane and misguided. It applies to the killing of both boys and girls by fathers. However, it is extremely rare for a father to kill his son for bringing dishonor to the family. But misogyny is certainly at play where the perpetrator is concerned, because no such "ownership" privilege is afforded to mothers. Furthermore, victims of "honor" killings are predominantly women and girls. So, the law becomes misogynistic when enacted within a culture of misogyny.
By the way, "honor" killings occur in the Christian and Jewish traditions as well, but the incidents are few and far in between.

2020/05/27 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chart showing the first few traiangular numbers Cryptic puzzle: For this one, you have to provide the puzzle's statement and solution! Counting puzzle: How many triangles are there in this image? (1) Images of the day: [Left] Challenging math problem: Show that the sum of inverses of triangular numbers, 1/1 + 1/3 + 1/6 + 1/10 + 1/15 + 1/21 + ... , converges to 2. The nth triangular number is the sum of consecutive integers from 1 to n, that is, n(n + 1)/2. [Center] Cryptic puzzle: For this one, you have to provide the puzzle's statement and solution! [Right] Counting puzzle: How many triangles are there in this image?
(2) Yet another victim of "honor" killings: Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, father of 14-year-old Romina Ashrafi beheads her with a sickle. Romina joins an already-long list of victims of violence against women and girls in the first two months of the new Iranian year. Romina was doubly victimized by a 35-year-old "lover" (child sexual predator) and by her father. After the murder, the father reportedly boasted that he had removed the stain! To add insult to injury, Romina was mourned by the male members of the family (no mention even of her mother in the announcement of memorial services; only father, grandfathers, brother, uncles)! And now the murderous father mourns his daughter? Words fail me in describing this stain on humanity!
[P.S.: In reporting on the gruesome murder, Iran's news media PhotoShopped an image of the victim to show a headscarf that covers more of her hair and a couple of inches of neck seen in the original photo!]
(3) Musings on the misguided notions of "gheirat" and "namoos" (Persian words): This morning I read and made a couple of posts about another "honor" killing in Iran. Violence against women and girls continues under the guise of "family honor" and other misguided notions. I have made many posts over the past decade about the topic. Here are samples from my diary, found with a search for the word "gheirat."
(4) The restaurant industry is going through a near-death experience: Here is a provocative opinion piece, arguing that the racially-discriminating, economically-exploitative, and environmentally-destructive industry should not be bailed out.
(5) Racist cops: George Floyd, a black man choked to death in Minnesota when a police officer put a knee over his neck for several minutes to hold him down, kept saying that he couldn't breathe.
(6) Restrictions in Optional Practical Training being considered: OPT allows international students in the US a period of practical training in a job, while remaining on student visas. India and China are the top two countries in terms of students enrolled in OPT. Amazon is the largest employer that benefits from the program.

2020/05/25 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
US Memorial Day: Honoring all who served Meme of the day: Love, from my house to your house Chaotic reopening defies common sense: Many Americans ignore the guidelines for reopening safely
Manteqi-Nejad Historic House, Shiraz, Iran Meme: - Good morning, doctor! - Ma'am ... I'm your hairdresser! Mollabashi Historic House in Esfahan, Iran (1) Images of the day: [Top left] On this Memorial Day, we honor the memory of those who fell to protect our freedom: Kissing and hugging the flag and wrapping our misguided policies in it are cheap. Doing something for our veterans, including protecting them from predatory private colleges that mislead them and milk their educational benefits would be priceless. [Top center] Meme of the day: Love, from my house to your house. [Top right] Chaotic reopening defies common sense: Many Americans ignore the guidelines for reopening safely. [Bottom left] Manteqi-Nejad Historic House, Shiraz, Iran. [Bottom center] Meme of the day: - Good morning, doctor! - Ma'am ... I'm your hairdresser! [Bottom right] Mollabashi Historic House in Esfahan, Iran.
(2) Every move you make, every step you take, Google is watching you: How Google collects your data even if your phone has no WiFi or cellular connection and is set on airplane mode. Surveillance capitalism. Scary!
(3) Sessions v. Trump: Jeff Sessions has finally begun to stand up to Trump's abusive tweets. Sort of. But it's too late for him to recover from hypocritically supporting a man he knew to be a crook.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Kim Jong Un holds a high-level meeting to bolster NK's nuclear arsenal and put its military on high alert.
- Russia, if you are listening, please convince people that it's safe to get haircuts and congregate in churches.
- Lindsey Graham & Donald Trump: Marriage of convenience between two hypocrites and shameless liars.
- "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." ~ Mark Twain
- In the next Batman and Superman sequels, the heros will be working from home!
- Graceful and somewhat surprising periodic mechanical motions. [5-minute video]
- Persian music on Turkish TV: Wonderful instrumental piece. [5-minute video]
(5) Mohammad Mo'in [1914-1971]: The Iranian scholar, who, despite dying at a relatively young age, left behind many noteworthy publications, including an acclaimed 6-volume Persian dictionary. [9-minute video]
(6) Persian music: A wonderful song involving a large number of participants, including Pari Zangeneh, celebrating medical and other front-line workers and the spirit of community. [Full credits on the video]
(7) [Musings of someone who has lost three family members in the span of less than a month.]
Mourning vs. celebration of life: A mourner's focus is on the loss s/he has suffered personally, so, it is rather self-centered. We see in the Iranian culture that a mourner wails, beats himself/herself, and feels despair. A better approach when losing a loved one is to celebrate his/her life. This is what the American culture advocates. Instead of highlighting the loss, one tells stories of the departed's life and experiences, including funny ones that bring a smile to everyone's face. We should remember a loved one by his/her life-long passions and contributions, rather than by the losing battle of the final days. [Recitation of my Persian poem]

2020/05/23 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Can't blame you if you see a woman in this landscape scene with animals! Four of the women featured in Hossein Kamlay's book, 'History of Islam in 21 Women' Poster for the documentary film 'Pioneers in Skirt'
The highest marginal tax rate was not set to 37% in the Bible: It is a product of negotiations and compromise Remembering the Isla Vista mass-shooting victims of May 23, 2014 I Madonnari Street-Painting Festival 2020 goes on-line (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Can't blame you if you see a woman in this landscape scene with animals! [Top center] A review of Hossein Kamlay's History of Islam in 21 Women: "[It] has a special resonance at a time in which Muslim women are often caricatured as powerless and dependent, and their alleged oppression is often used by western powers as justification for intervention in the Middle East." [Top right] "Pioneers in Skirts" is a feature documentary which uses both real subjects and industry experts to portray how everyday people experience and combat stereotyping, sexism, and bias. The film is produced by Lea-Ann W. Berst and directed by Ashley Maria (trailer). [Bottom left] The highest marginal tax rate was not set to 37% in the Bible: It is a product of negotiations and compromise. In the US, it rose to 94% during World War II, and it was at or above 70% from 1936 to 1980. [Bottom center] Mourning mass-shooting victims (see the next item below). [Bottom right] I Madonnari Street-Painting Festival 2020: Artists will create chalk paintings on their driveways over the Memorial-Day weekend and share them on-line, instead of gathering at Santa Barbara Mission.
(2) Remembering the Isla Vista mass-shooting victims: Today, the Isla Vista Love and Remembrance Garden at People's Park provided a space for remembering the six victims of the tragic events that shocked UCSB and its surrounding communities six years ago. Six young souls and their dreams were taken by a spoiled, gun-loving rich kid, who thought women owed him love and attention he did not deserve. [2-minute video]
(3) Speaking truth to power: A brave soul, speaking (in Persian) at an unknown forum, says that Islamic Republic of Iran officials have no choice but to divert people's attention with anti-America slogans, because there isn't one thing that they can point to as a positive development under their rule.
(4) A petite woman in her 30s, who is often mistaken for a pre-teen, writes about her ordeal: Many people might think that her problem is a good one to have, but she begs to differ.
(5) Beautiful math: The Riemann hypothesis is a seemingly-simple math problem that has remained unsolved, that is, neither confirmed nor contradicted, since it was formulated in 1859. This video will help you understand the hypothesis and why it is perhaps today's most-important open math problem.

2020/05/22 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Restaurants' new offering after they re-open to diners (hand sanitizer) Math humor: When you have no clue but get lucky Theaters are using their marquees for humor and public announcements
My walk at Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park on a gorgeous afternoon: Batch 1 of photos My walk at Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park on a gorgeous afternoon: Batch 2 of photos My walk at Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park on a gorgeous afternoon: Batch 3 of photos (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cartoon of the day: Restaurants' new offering after they re-open to diners. [Top center] When you have no clue but get lucky. [Top right] Drive-in theaters are coming back: They have built-in social distancing and allow people holed up at home to have a night out. Meanwhile, ordinary theaters are using their marquees for humor and public announcements. [Bottom] My invigorating walk at Goleta's Lake Los Carneros Park on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon.
(2) Virtual tours of important attractions in Shiraz, a south-central city in Iran. [Nasiralmolk Mosque] [Persepolis] [Tomb of Hafez] [Tomb of Sa'adi] [Shah-e Cheragh Shrine] [Vakil Bazaar] [Vakil Bath] [Vakil Mosque] [Afif-Abad Garden] [Jahan-Namaa Garden] [Quran Gate] [Ghavam Orange Grove] [Zinat-al-Molk Residence] [Karim-Khan Fort] [Haft-Tanaan Monument] [Khan School]
(3) Quote of the day: "I like to play this DVD on the TV in my bar, because my customers end up drinking a lot more." ~ Curtis Ledger, Texas, on the Ken Burns documentary film about the Trump administration
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Humor: In Trump's re-opening guidelines, you are asked to socially-distance yourself only from scientists!
- Two southern churches reclose indefinitely after pastor dies and churchgoers catch coronavirus.
- UC leads by example: Univ. of California becomes world's largest university to divest fully from fossil fuels.
- Rira Esmaeilion, a victim of the Ukrainian plane downing, would have turned 10 today. [Her dad's tweet]
- Peaceful music: "No Return," by Invisible Blue. [4-minute audio clip]
- Art reflections: Hidden designs emerge from thin air on reflective surfaces. [Video]
(5) Possible set-back to public transit: In recent years, many people had begun favoring public transit over private cars. That trend may reverse owing to health fears in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both traffic conditions and air quality will be adversely affected by greater reliance on private cars.
(6) The historic city of Darab, Iran: Located in the south-central Fars Province, this city of 55,000 residents was founded some 2500 years ago by Darius I, on a site that is believed to have once hosted a 7000-year-old civilization. It was originally called Darabgerd (round Darius-town), with a 6-km-long circular wall and moat.
(7) IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference: Comprised of one-hour sessions throughout June 2020, the conference is free with advance registration. This Web site has the program details, registration links, and a library of pertinent videos. I particularly recommend the session on June 23, during which director Ashley Maria will make a presentation about the documentary film "Pioneers in Skirts."

2020/05/21 (Thursday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image for David McCullough's 'The Wright Brothers' Cover image of the audio-course 'The Art of Storytelling' Cover image for Andrew McCabe's 'The Threat' (1) Book review: McCullough, David, The Wright Brothers, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2015. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Sons of a preacher and a mother who died young, Wilbur and Orville Wright grew up in Dayton, Ohio, on a small side-street. Their family's residence lacked electricity or indoor plumbing, but was filled with books, which the unschooled brothers never stopped reading. The brothers ran a fairly successful bicycle shop, that provided them with enough income to live and to pursue their main passion: human flight. Amazingly, in those days, bicycles were viewed as having negative influences on innocent youth, keeping them from reading books and encouraging sexual freedom!
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Wright brothers did not invent human flight. Rather, they perfected the mechanisms needed to control flight in a fixed-wing, heavier-than-air machine and to make it less dangerous for humans on board. In fact, alongside their own rigorous observations of birds in flight, they read books by others who had already thought about and suggested workable schemes for human flight. The Wright brothers took immense risks in the process, leading, for example, to Orville suffering serious injuries, requiring a long recovery period, during a test flight.
The determined and mechanically skilled brothers finally demonstrated sustained flight in December 1903, thus heralding the age of aviation. They achieved this remarkable feat on their own meager income, using simple and inexpensive mechanisms. Only after their successful flight did the Smithsonian, which was conducting its own flying experiments (embarrassingly flopping into the Potomac) showed any interest in their work on behalf of the US government.
Pulitzer-Prize-winning master historian McCullough draws upon correspondence, diaries, notebooks, and scrapbooks to tell the story of Wright brothers, who were 5 years apart but often deemed to be twins; Wilbur was the older brother, but Orville became better known. The elaborate detail that the book provides was made possible, owing to meticulous record-keeping by the Wright family and interviews with the people of Kitty Hawk, the small North Carolina beach town, with an expansive beach and moderate, steady winds, where the brothers did many of their test flights.
(2) Course review: Harvey, Prof. Hannah B. (Professional Storyteller), The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals, 24 lectures in the "Great Courses" series, 2013. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This audiobook in the "Great Courses" series should be required listening for everyone. We all tell stories in our daily lives, not just to our children but also to our friends, underlings, superiors, and virtually everyone else. Research has shown that humans arrange facts and remember them by weaving little stories. In other words, our brain is hardwired to build and understand stories. It relishes good stories and experiences pain when faced with bad or poorly-told stories.
And, in teaching too, research suggests that stories play a key role in effective information transfer and understanding. You can talk for hours about the importance of following engineering and ethics rules in system design, but for students to internalize the concepts, you have to tell actual human stories of how skirting such guidelines can lead to loss and even tragedy.
skills you will learn from this course include choosing expressive language; crafting compelling characters; refining your narrator's point of view; shaping your story's plot, structure, and emotional arc; developing imagery, vocal cues, and intonation; and using body language to connect with your audience. Most people, whether they are stand-up comics or teachers, reuse stories, refining them prior to each new use, until they become finely-tuned and effective.
Sometimes, though, people overuse stories. It is a pet peeve of mine to see news reports that begin with a fascinating story, which potentially obfuscates the main point of the report. The story may pull in some readers with dramatic statements and teasers, but I think it could also lead to loss of focus and reader interest.
(3) Book review: McCabe, Andrew G., The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The publishing industry must love Trump, who has been the subject of best-selling book, after best-selling book, ever since he took office as the 45th president of the United States. These books have significant overlaps in describing the Trump administration's most-egregious acts and constant lying to the press and the public. Yet, each book invariably has a personal angle that adds to the overall story. Perhaps someday, someone will synthesize all the available information into a coherent and critically-acclaimed whole.
McCabe has been a central figure in the investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. He personally knew James Comey, Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, and Jeff Sessions, which makes him privy to much sensitive information. McCabe seems to like the disposition and cordiality of VP Mike Pence, abhor Jeff Sessions, and harbor mixed feelings about Rosenstein. He considers Comey singularly responsible for Clinton's defeat. The most positive character in the book is Robert Mueller, whom McCabe considers a role model and hero. Yet, we don't hear a final verdict from McCabe on whether Mueller did his job well in investigating the Russia connection of Trump's campaign.
On multiple occasions, Trump tried to goad McCabe into acknowledging that the rank-and-file members of the FBI loved him and hated Comey, an offer which McCabe says he refused because he felt that the exact opposite was true. In his relentless search for personal loyalty, Trump also asked McCabe about how he had voted in the 2016 presidential election, a question McCabe dodged at first, later admitting that he had not voted.
As they say, an autobiography is the story of how a person thinks his/her life was led. There are passages in this book where the reader/listener might doubt McCabe's fortitude and honesty, but the book does add another dimension to the many volumes that describe Trump and his dysfunctional administration. Many more books will be written in time and we will get to know the extent to which McCabe's self-serving claims pan out.

2020/05/20 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Woman protester holding a sign that reads 'Muzzles are for dogs and slaves' I am a free human being' Cartoon: Parts of an Instagram screen covered with a headscarf Iranian presidential adviser Shahindokht Molaverdi shares an image depicting diverse families on a Telegram channel and faces a strong backlash
Good science comes in peer-reviewed journals. Conspiracy theories come in videos. A couplet from Omar Khayyam in honor of his birthday Time magazine cover image about the proper way of reopening the US economy (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Not racist at all: Some "very fine people" are against wearing masks, which are for dogs and slaves! [Top center] Iranian police will deal harshly with hijab-less women on Instagram (news reports) Here's an excellent idea. Instead of women being forced to cover their hair, why not those who are troubled by seeing women's flowing hair not using Instagram or, if they have to be on Instagram, covering parts of their phone screens (cartoon from: Iranwire.com). [Top right] Iranian presidential adviser Shahindokht Molaverdi shares an image depicting diverse families on Telegram and faces a strong backlash. [Bottom left] It bears repeating: YouTube isn't a legit news source on science or any other matter. [Bottom center] Ordibehesht 28 (May 17 this year) is the birth date of Omar Khayyam, the Persian philosopher, mathematician, poet, and polymath. Here is one of his more-famous couplets, stating that as we increase our knowledge, we also raise our awareness of our ignorance. [Bottom right] The flag won't save us from a pandemic, science will!
(2) An Oscar-worthy acting performance: "Jane Roe" of "Roe v. Wade" fame was paid by anti-abortion groups to denounce her advocacy of abortion rights, but she later returned to her original stance. The documentary "AKA Jane Roe" details her story and deathbed confession.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- This isn't normal: Trump compared to former presidents in reacting to national crises.
- Your religious freedom and right to go to church do not take precedence over "Thou shall not kill"! [Video]
- A survey result even Fox News can't ignore: Opinions on the greatest threat to world peace.
- Iran: The Jewish shrine of Esther and Mordechai undamaged in fire, which burned in an annex building.
- Music: A talent-competition-show singer with an amazing vocal range. [Video]
- Female composers earn a stage: They set out to change Iran's male-dominated music-composition scene.
(4) Double disasters: Imagine being under stay-at-home and social-distancing restrictions because of a pandemic, when flooding causes two dams to break. How does one go to a shelter and observe social distancing? Hope Michiganders stay safe!
(5) Avoid fighting two wars at once: Matthew McConaughey shares his message about political divisiveness in the era of COVID-19 and the need to focus on defeating the virus.
(6) Dictators with failed ambitions: Hitler failed in his pursuit of painting. Stalin coveted the role of a theoretician. Khamenei aspired to be a poet, and he compensates for his failure in this domain by holding poetry-recitation sessions, where he assumes the role of a critic.

2020/05/19 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: This explains Trump's reluctance to wear a mask! Seven Iranian Baha'is sentenced to a total of 33 years jail time Meme of the day: Even on Gilligan's Island, they listened to the professor, not the millionaire!
Protests by armed and dangerous 'terrorists': Photo 1 Protests by armed and dangerous 'terrorists': Photo 2 UCSB's Pollock Theater spotlights three films in its 'Beatles Revolutions' series (1) Images of the day: [Top left] This explains Trump's reluctance to wear a mask! [Top center] Seven Iranian Baha'is sentenced to a total of 33 years jail time: Just for practicing their faith! [Top right] Meme of the day: Even on Gilligan's Island, they listened to the professor, not the millionaire! [Bottom left & center] Protests by armed and dangerous "terrorists" (see the last item below). [Bottom right] UCSB's Pollock Theater spotlights three films in the "Beatles Revolutions" series (see the last item below).
(2) UCSB's Pollock Theater, closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spotlights its past screenings, including three films in the "Beatles Revolutions" series (follow links for details and post-screening discussions):
- "A Hard Day's Night" (1964, available on Amazon Prime Video) [Link]
- "Across the Universe" (2007, available on Amazon Prime Video) [Link]
- "Yellow Submarine" (1968, available on iTunes/AppleTV) [Link]
(3) Household-disinfectant poisoning on the rise: April 2020 saw a 121% increase in household-disinfectant poisoning (over the same month last year). It's all Obama's fault, because he did not prepare the nation for disbelieving snake-oil salesmen! [Data from Time magazine, May 25, 2020]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Increasingly worried about going to jail after leaving office, Trump invents "Obamagate"!
- US President thinks Secretary of State shouldn't have to wash dishes if his wife isn't around.
- Police in Iran to deal harshly with women showing their hair on Instagram: Are family photo albums next?
- Persian music: Japanese (Tajik?) children singing and dancing to "Gol-e Sangam." Very cute! [Video]
- Either the building's janitor wrote this sign or Iranian doctors aren't required to take a few units of Persian!
- Word-search puzzle: Find 16 country names in this 8 × 12 grid (two of them are abbreviations).
(5) Terrible historical analogies: Under the guise of protesting social restrictions imposed to limit the spread of COVID-19, certain groups of people bearing assault rifles, US and Confederate flags, and swastikas took to the streets and went as far as physically threatening governors and others at state capitols. Such groups are normally called terrorists, if their skin color is anything but white. The groups and their apologists liken the state restrictions and stay-at-home orders to Nazism and slavery. It is safe to say that none of these people has experienced or even read a book on what went on during the Nazi reign in Germany or the dark years of slavery in the US. Such ill-advised analogies aren't much different from Holocaust denial or condoning racism.

2020/05/17 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My cousin Farkhondeh, with several members of the family Poem by B. Parhami in honor of his cousin, Farkhondeh Hatami Ghaffari-Vala My cousin Farkhondeh in her twenties and at a 2018 family reunion (1) Images of the day: My cousin Farkhondeh passed away on Saturday (see the next item below).
(2) Farkhondeh Hatami Ghaffari-Vala [1948-2020]: It's only mid-May, and the third member of the extended Parhami family has passed away this month. My cousin Farkhondeh was part of the cohort of Parhami cousins that included me and my oldest sister. Her family, aunt Zohreh's, and mine were very close. I and my sisters and Farkhondeh and her four brothers and two sisters got together often, both at our parental homes and in outings such as picnics in the country, ski trips, hiking in northern Tehran, and camping on the Caspian-Sea shores. Farkhondeh was always the life of the party, as well as a caring and kind person. I composed a poem, with the initial letters of the half verses spelling "Farkhondeh," in her honor. May her soul rest in peace!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Coronavirus stats, in round numbers: World cases 5M; US cases 1.5M; World deaths 300K; US deaths 90K.
- Toxic masculinity: Men are less likely to wear masks, because of the belief that masks are emasculating!
- Here we go again: "Arthur" is the first Atlantic storm of the year. [Map]
- Borowitz Report (humor): Trump wishes he could replace Fauci with the doctor who saved him from Vietnam.
- Having fun with face masks! [Video of woman wearing a mask painted with a big grin]
- The up side of coronavirus: Eat as much as you like; Summer is cancelled!
- Natural wonder in Iran's Lorestan Province: A 3-km-long water-carved pass, with many geologic features.
- Duet by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli: What a treat! The song is called "Perfect Symphony." [Video]
(4) The double-whammy hitting US college towns: Small towns hosting major universities are being doubly impacted by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. The economies of such towns are highly dependent on the presence of, and spending by, students as well as by visiting parents, especially at graduation time.
(5) My forthcoming remote keynote address: To be delivered in English at 20th International Symposium on Computer Architecture & Digital Systems (CADS 2020), Guilan University, Iran, April 22-23, 2020 (postponed to unspecified dates in June 2020, due to the coronavirus epidemic, which has hit particularly hard in the Caspian-Sea province of Guilan). [Read the Persian title and abstract]
Title: Neurophysiological Discoveries of the 2014 Nobel Prize Winners in Medicine from a Computer Arithmetic Perspective
Abstract: The discovery that mammals use a multi-modular method akin to residue number system (RNS), but with continuous residues or digits, to encode position information led to the award of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Medicine. After a brief review of the evidence in support of this hypothesis, and how it relates to RNS, I discuss the properties of continuous-digit RNS, and discuss results on the dynamic range, representational accuracy, and factors affecting the choice of the moduli, which are themselves real numbers. I conclude with suggestions for further research on important open problems concerning the process of selection, or evolutionary refinement, of the set of moduli in such a representation.

2020/05/15 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A sample of how English has changed: The 23rd Psalm over the last 1000 years The new normal: Children playing (cartoon) Newsweek magazine cover about safety vs. privacy, as we head toward extensive contact-tracing (1) Images of the day: [Left] A sample of how English has changed: The 23rd Psalm over the last 1000 years. [Center] The new normal: Children playing. [Right] Cover of Newsweek magazine (see the last item below).
(2) Persian poetry recitation: Fereydoon Moshiri's "Gord Afarid," describing a mythical female character from Ferdowsi's Book of Kings. Ferdowsi is often credited for saving the Persian language. Were it not for his efforts, Iranians would be speaking Arabic today, much like several non-Arab countries of North Africa.
(3) COVID-19 scams proliferate: If you get e-mails, texts, or calls about stimulus checks, testing, etc., do not respond or click on links.
(4) Hope this isn't true, but the report is in line with previous defacing and destruction attempts: Holy Jewish site of Esther and Mordechai set ablaze in Iran.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Why is Trump so obsessed with Obama? This Guardian article has some answers.
- In-n-Out Burger drive-through in Goleta now has two waiting lines, which extend to Turnpike Road. [Photo]
- The Obamas read a children's book, The Word Collector, to support public libraries. [Video]
- The Water & Fire Park: Near Tehran's Vanak Square, not far from my parental home of 3 decades ago.
- Persian music: A nice rendition of "Gol-e Sangam" with kamancheh and tar.
(6) "Twenty Actresses, Twenty Destinies, Fifty Years of Iranian Cinema": Iranian families, even educated and enlightened ones, discouraged women from pursuing acting careers and, in extreme cases, disowned them or threatened them with death. [7-minute trailer]
(7) Freedom/privacy vs. safety/security: The age-old trade-off is staring at us in the age of coronavirus. Other than contact tracing, featured on the cover of Newsweek, I learned from an NPR program that monitoring the heart rates of large populations (possibly millions) can provide important clues about the distribution and spread of COVID-19. This scheme, which does not need any new equipment, because smart watches and other health-monitoring equipment already collect the data, was invented in the US, but China is its primary user.

2020/05/14 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An artist's expression of his/her frustrations these days: Head banging a brick These women are believed to be the front-runners for becoming Joe Biden's running mate: Abrams, Harris, Klobuchar, Warren Work by another frustrated artist, this time a sand-sculptor: Lincoln with palm on his face (1) Images of the day: [Left] Artist's expression of his/her frustrations these days (GIF link). [Center] These women are believed to be the front-runners for becoming Joe Biden's running mate. [Right] Work by another frustrated artist, this time a sand-sculptor: One of the winning entries in a Texas competition.
(2) SAT and ACT are out: UC President Janet Napolitano recommends multi-year suspension of SAT and ACT test requirements. Eventually, the standardized tests will be replaced by UC's home-grown test.
(3) Higher-education News: California State University, the nation's largest 4-year college system with 23 campuses, will cancel most in-person classes in the fall and instead offer instruction primarily online.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The coronavirus timeline: Don't let Trump try to rewrite history and blame Obama for his own failings.
- "Transition to Greatness" starts on November 3, 2020. Only 174 days to go!
- Artist at work: Using a can of paint and leaving the rest to a swinging pendulum! [5-minute video]
- Persian music: A composition by Hossein Alizadeh, with lyrics by poet Fereydoon Moshiri. [5-minute video]
- Music & dance from Lorestan: The western Iranian province that is home to the oldest human civilizations.
- Puzzle: How can we use 4-minute and 7-minute hourglasses to measure 9 minutes?
- Puzzle: What two things do these words have in common? aisle | hour | knot | scent | whole | wrested
(5) Puzzle: X wants to let Y and Z know his birth date. He first indicates that the date is among the following ten options: January 13, 15, 19; February 17, 18; March 12, 13; April 12, 15, 17.
He then tells Y the month and Z the day.
Y says: "I don't know X's birth date, but I am certain that Z doesn't know either."
Z then says: "I didn't know before, but I know now."
Y then says: "Now I know too."
Which of the 10 options represent X's birth date and why?
(6) Arab literature isn't popular in Iran: Only a handful of Arab writers are known and, with the exception of those writing in English or winning international awards, their work is pretty much ignored by Iranian intellectuals. One surprising reason is the dearth of capable translators and editors, despite the fact that Arabic instruction is broadly supported by the Islamic regime and is included at all grade levels. Fascinating!

2020/05/13 (Wednesday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image for the book 'Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope' Cover image for 'The Book of Joy,' by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams Cover image of 'Zero to One,' by Peter Thiel (1) Book review: Kristof, Nicholas D. and Sheryl WuDunn, Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, Unabridged MP3 audiobook read by the authors and Jennifer Garner, Random House Audio, 2020.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
By telling stories from the lives of real Americans who are struggling to make ends meet amid unprecedented national and global economic expansion, the authors provide a sobering narrative on the current state of our country and of our national priorities. Given America's deteriorating economic situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the fragilities and inequities that it has exposed, the message of this book has become even more urgent.
Kristof grew up in Yamhill, Oregon, a rural community that is representative of much of the American underclass. Kristof and WuDunn draw the reader in by telling the stories of one quarter of Kristof's school-bus buddies who have died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents, all caused, directly or indirectly, by being marginalized.
The book then proceeds to outline causes and symptoms of economic inequality, which is often blamed, wrongly, on globalization. Economic strains and downturns caused by globalization are, well, a global phenomenon, but workers in Germany and many other European countries, or in Canada, aren't impacted in the same way as US workers, thanks, in part, to their better social safety nets and the government actively helping the citizens, rather than blaming them for personal irresponsibility.
Economic desperation, along with easy access to opioids and guns, is a recipe for disaster that the aforementioned countries have avoided, as they went through rough economic times. Decades of policy mistakes, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, have reversed the economic progress of the mid-twentieth-century in rural America. For example, Mississippi, which had a per-capita income of only 30% of Massachusetts in the 1930s, was catching up and reached 70% by 1975, before starting to go backwards to the current 55%.
One particular story of the life of marginalized people was eye-opening for me. A drunken Oregon man awakens his wife and orders her to make dinner for him. When she doesn't move fast enough, he punches her and chases her out of the house with a rifle. She spends the night in the fields near their house, hoping and praying that their five children are not harmed. Four of the five children die gruesome deaths in later years, while the fifth child is afflicted with HIV and hepatitis.
This book isn't an easy or pleasant read. Despite the appearance of the word "Hope" in the subtitle, there are precious few things in the book that spark hope. But we owe it to our country to familiarize ourselves with how the underclass lives and how our choices of leaders and support for fiscal and social policies contribute to the worsening crisis.
(2) Book review: Lama, Dalai, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, unabridged MP3 audiobook read by Douglas C. Abrams, Francois Chau, and Peter F. James, Penguin Audio, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
On the occasion of the Dalai Lama's 80th birthday, the two spiritual leaders, Nobel Peace Laureates, and infectiously-happy old men got together for a week in Dharamsala, India, to compare notes about joy (an inner condition) and how it differs from happiness (an outer condition). The moderator and audiobook's narrator Douglas Abrams, a Jew, observes that the combination (a Buddhist, a Christian, and a Jew), which sounds like the set-up for a joke, actually adds to the serious message that joy is independent of religion or even of the belief in a deity.
The two spiritual leaders are highly qualified to talk about finding joy in the face of hardship and pain. The Dalai Lama escaped Tibet, where his life was in danger, and has lived in exile for decades. Desmond Tutu played a key role in Africa's freedom movements, including the fall of the apartheid state in South Africa. Frequent mentions are made in the book of Nelson Mandela, another spiritual leader who chose humility, forgiveness, and gratitude, the three key ingredients of joy.
The book's plan was to build a "three-layer birthday cake," with the layers being the spiritual leaders' stories/teachings about joy, the latest psychological and neuro-scientific discoveries about human happiness, and the joyful men's daily practices encompassing their emotional and spiritual lives. The two men, still jubilant and mischievous in their eighties, may never get together again. So, this book will likely remain their final collaboration in bringing joy to the world.
The audiobook's second and third narrators are voice actors, who presumably have accents similar to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. This makes listening to the audiobook a much more enjoyable experience than merely reading the printed book.
(3) Book review: Thiel, Peter with Blake Masters, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Blake Masters, Random House Audio, 2014.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Building a start-up company means creating something from nothing, thus the book's title. Drawing from his experience as a founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies, Thiel outlines conditions for success in a domain where the landscape is littered with failures. Among his recommendation is starting small, focusing on one narrow domain and aiming to monopolize it by creating something that provides clear value to users. Being too ambitious at the outset, or using the finite resources of a start-up to compete with one or more established businesses is unlikely to lead to success.
Thiel's embrace of monopoly is quite unconventional. We are told that monopoly is bad and competition is good. Thiel suggests that too much competition shaves the profit margin and dampens innovation. On the other hand, a monopolistic enterprise may be highly motivated to invest in innovative processes and products, given its relative market security and long-term profit potential. Thiel does mention in passing that monopolies can be misused, but he glosses over the dangers.
Despite the book's shortcomnings, I believe that exposure to Thiel's ideas and arguments would be beneficial to many readers. For example, there is much truth to Thiel's assertion that competition restricts vision and produces obsessive hostility. Competition often leads to copying of ideas and products, rather than invention and innovation. Thiel also stresses the importance of marketing, an area that is often overlooked by techies, dismissing the myth that "if you build it, they will come."
As a co-author of The Diversity Myth, a critique of multiculturalism and the rape-crisis movement that vilifies men (he has since apologized for the latter stance), Thiel is no stranger to controversy, and he creates a lot of it in Zero to One. Read it with an open mind and take what you find acceptable to your way of thinking and priorities. As the Persian saying goes, Luqman the Wise claimed that he learned decorum/manners from the tactless/impolite!

2020/05/12 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
The Council to Reopen America has no experts on it Grandma trying to be helpful (breathing mask) Puzzle: Of the four screws in this figure, three are known to have the same length. Which ones are they?
$100 bill, with Ben Franklin wearing a face mask Optical illusion: Two different visualizations, depending on whether you focus on the top or bottom of this GIF image Professor Mona Ghassemi, Virginia Tech Engineering (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meme of the day: And no surprise! [Top center] Grandma trying to be helpful! [Top right] Puzzle: Of the four screws in this figure, three are known to have the same length. Find the lengths of the screws, assuming that the squares shown are 1 x 1. [Bottom left] Coronavirus stimulus $100 bill! [Bottom center] Optical illusion: Two different visualizations, depending on whether you focus on the top or bottom of this GIF image. [Bottom right] Virginia Tech is proud of Professor Mona Ghassemi, whose research on accelerated aging of electrical insulators has been recognized with an NSF CAREER award.
(2) Ghost guns: Do-it-yourself firearms are flying off the shelves like toilet paper. These guns have no serial number and need no background check, making them essentially untraceable. Criminals are now attracted to ghost guns, which were originally popular only with gun enthusiasts. No one knows the exact number of such guns in the US or how many crimes have been committed with them. A ghost gun was involved in at least one school mass-shooting. [14-minute video]
(3) Mini-Louvre Museum in Izad-Shahr, Iran: Built by a philanthropist, the Caspian-Sea-region museum houses works by contemporary Iranian artists. [3-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Thirteen killed in attack on Kabul hospital's maternity ward run by Medicins Sans Frontieres.
- Never again: High-ranking Ukranian police official requests list of Jews in western city of Kolomyya.
- US Supreme Court will start hearing oral arguments on Trump's tax-returns case today.
- Iranian navy ship hit by friendly fire in the Gulf of Oman: The "incident" leaves 19 dead and 15 injured.
- Examples of people responding to museums' challenge to recreate works of art at home. [Pictorial]
(5) Petulant-in-Chief: At 4:56 this morning, Trump experienced a fit of jealousy over governors with high approval ratings for their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, so he had to send this tweet!
(6) Mitch McConnell thinks that Obama is "classless" for criticizing Trump: Says nothing about the propriety of Trump talking and tweeting about Obama's "failures" almost daily.
(7) Invasive species are loving it: Many conservation, eradication, and control efforts have been paused around the world due to stay-at-home mandates. The final toll may be a set-back of years in such efforts.
(8) The missing billion years in the geologic record: A feature known as "The Great Uncomformity" in the Grand Canyon has puzzled scientists for well over a century. The feature refers to more than one billion years of missing rock in certain places. UCSB Earth Sciences Professor Francis Macdonald and a number of co-workers in Colorado have a new theory about the missing rock, attributing it to the movement of tectonic plates, rather than mass movement of glaciers some 700 billion years ago, the previous dominant theory.

2020/05/10 (Sunday): Today's posts are all in honor of Mothers' Day.
Photos of Iranian human-rights activists Nasrin Sotoudeh and Narges Mohammadi Photo of my mom, alongside the poem 'Mother,' by Fereydoon Moshiri Cover image for Parinoush Saniee's 'Sahm-e Man' ('My Share') (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Happy Mothers' Day! I wish my own mother and all other selfless mothers in the world a wonderful day filled with love, celebration, and appreciation. As we honor our mothers in the West, let's not forget that in Iran and elsewhere, mothers are separated from their children and other family members, as they serve long prison terms for the "crime" of advocating for human/women's rights and justice-system reforms. Brave women have demonstrated repeatedly that they won't be silenced by made-up charges of treason or acting against national security (#NasrinSotoudeh #NargesMohammadi #HumanRights). [Right] Parinoush Saniee's 'Sahm-e Man' ('My Share'): See the last item below.
(2) Special Mothers' Day book review: Saniee, Parinoush, Sahm-e Man (My Share), in Persian, Roozbehan, 2003. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This is a best-selling debut novel by Iranian sociologist/psychologist Parinoush Saniee, whose writings were twice banned in her homeland. Sahm-e Man has been translated into English by Sara Khalili under the title The Book of Fate (2013).
Massoumeh, the novel's protagonist, moves with her family from Qom to Tehran. Her family views girls as trouble and easy targets for corruption in the capital city. Massoumeh is envied by her older brothers, because she is bright and a favorite of their father, and one of them, a sadist, drinker, and drug addict makes life difficult for her and her friends. When a young man, a pharmacist, is smitten by Massoumeh and sends her private notes, the brothers accuse her of being loose and blame Parvaneh, a friend and confidante, for leading her along a deviant path.
After turning down several suitors seeking arranged marriages, and forgetting about the pharmacist who left town with no trace, Massoumeh agrees to marry a man whom she did not know at all, because she saw marriage as her ticket out of her suffocating home life. The man turns out to be quite enlightened and an advocate of women's rights, who suggests that she pursue her education, but he is too busy with a left-wing underground group, with secret meetings and operations, to pay much attention to his wife. The marriage produces two sons and, years later, a daughter, who fill the void in Massoumeh's life.
In time, Massoumeh comes to love her husband but feels uneasy about her place in his life, her relationship with his friends, and the dangers he puts the family through. He vanishes for days or weeks at a time and does not talk about his activities when he returns. He justifies this silence by telling his wife that she would be better off if she knew less. The husband is eventually arrested and imprisoned. The Islamic Revolution takes him out of the prison, and, for a while, he pays more attention to his wife and children. But he soon returns to underground activities and the attendant long absences.
Saniee weaves an intricate tale of the life of a lonely woman, who is a prisoner of societal norms and expectations of family members, her own and her husband's. She keeps herself occupied by reading, taking courses, cooking, cleaning, and tending to her children's physical and emotional needs. When her husband is home, she comes to enjoy his presence and spending time with him, if his other commitments do not interfere.
Hundreds of pages later, we see Massoumeh as a middle-aged woman who takes pride in her accomplishments. Her sons are out of the house, one fleeing to Germany and the other getting married after fighting in the Iran-Iraq War, and her daughter finds love, having started her college education. In a final dramatic twist, Massoumeh's pharmacist crush reappears in Tehran. Dealing with decades-old suppressed feelings, in the face of surprisingly selfish reactions of her children to their mother pursuing a new romance, creates major complications in her life.
I found this book one of the best-written modern novels in Persian. The prose is engaging, grammatically solid, and correctly punctuated, while being rather informal, a rarity in Persian-language books. On the negative side, I found the overly long chapters (~100 pp.) at the beginning of the book somewhat distressing. I like a bit more structure in a book, including reasonably-sized chapters with titles, that provide milestones and guidance to the reader. Frequent citation of poems is another annoyance, in my opinion. But these are minor qualms for an otherwise excellent and highly-recommended book.

2020/05/09 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Iran of a century ago: Color photos from the April 1921 'National Geographic' special: Batch 1 Today, we celebrated my daughter's birthday on Zoom, with the extended family Iran of a century ago: Color photos from the April 1921 'National Geographic' special: Batch 2 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Iran of a century ago: Color photos from the April 1921 National Geographic special. [Center] Today, we celebrated my daughter's birthday on Zoom, with the extended family.
(2) Iran's other side: I often make positive posts about the nature, architecture, and culture of Iran. Unfortunately, all this beauty has a flip side that is often hidden from view. In this 8-minute video, Mohammad Nourizad shows us around a town in southeastern Iran, near the Pakistani border and less than half-km away from the resource-rich Gulf of Oman, where people live in abject poverty, forsaken by both the central government and local authorities.
(3) Seems like Trump has come to accept that the US economy is in the dumps: Every chance he gets, he talks about a "transition" third quarter, which will morph into a "great" fourth quarter and a "phenomenal" 2021. In other words, suck it up and I will make it wonderful after you re-elect me!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Little Richard, the rock legend who was an inspiration to many who came after him, dead at 87.
- The US unemployment rate is now worst since the Great Depression, when it hit 25.4%. [Time cover]
- Tech companies are America's bright spots, as we strive to come back from the COVID-19 pandemic's abyss.
- Meme of the day: "I am not a crook,*" (*By today's standards). [Image]
- A group of UCSB students have joined forces to recreate that campus feeling in Mine-Craft.
- Interpreting the eyes' language in the age of coronavirus and social distancing. [Cartoon strip]
- Theme music from "Titanic," reimagined in classical Indian style. [Video]
(5) Health workers are in a war zone: Those who are put in a position to reuse masks and gowns bear the same risks as soldiers in the early months of the Iraq War patrolling the combat zone in unarmored vehicles.
(6) Persian music: A nice-sounding trio, one of the many musical groups that have sprung up across Iran, in defiance of the government's restrictions on arts and artists, particularly women artists who are excluded from many public performance venues.
(7) Disneyland's "Star Wars" attraction: Theme-park attractions and other mass-gatherings are disallowed until the fourth stage of the state's re-opening plan.
(8) UCSB's Pollock Theater spotlights "Shakespeare on Film" with three virtual screenings.
- Laurence Olivier's "Hamlet" (1948; available on Amazon Prime Video); film info and video of post-screening discussion with UCSB English Professor Mark Rose.
- "Haider" (2014; available on Netflix), "Hamlet" reimagined as a contemporary crime drama; film info and video of post-screening discussion with USC Cinema and Media Studies Professor Priya Jaikumar.
- "Macbeth" (2015; available on Amazon Prime Video); film info and video of post-screening discussion with screenwriters Todd Louiso and Jacob Koskoff.

2020/05/08 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This is our president's understanding of diagnostic tests The floor was somewhat taken aback by the alarmed door and the startled window The late Forough Farrokhzad: Famed contemporary Iranian poet, with her brother Fereydoon and a sample of her work (1) Images of the day: [Left] This is our president's understanding of diagnostic tests. [Center] The floor was somewhat taken aback by the alarmed door and the startled window. [Right] The late Forough Farrokhzad: Famed contemporary Iranian poet, with her brother Fereydoon and a sample of her work.
(2) Obama to deliver televised commencement speech for the entire high-school class of 2020: The special, hosted by The LeBron James Family Foundation, XQ Institute, and The Entertainment Industry Foundation, will air simultaneously on ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC (May 16, 8:00 PM EDT). Many other celebs will participate.
(3) Exciting news from the 3D-printing front: University of Bath (UK) researchers have produced an open-source design that allows the 3D printing of a laboratory-grade microscope for less than $20. The microscope has motorized sample-positioning and focus control.
(4) A failed presidency on full display: Not caring about 70,000+ deaths, but sweating over a 7000-point drop in DJIA. A just-us system that wants to dismiss charges against a confessed criminal and seems to be okay with White Supremacists gunning down an unarmed black man while jogging. [Meme and tweet]
(5) Earthquake near Tehran: Centered to the south of Mt. Damavand, a volcanic peak 70 km east of Tehran, the magnitude-4.8 quake (5.1?) seems to have caused few casualties and little damage.
(6) Coronavirus in the White House: VP Mike Pence's Press Secretary Katie Miller (wife of Trump aide Steven Miller) has tested positive for the coronavirus. White House staff will now be tested daily for the virus, but testing is unnecessary for the rest of US population!
(7) A secret love affair that emerged from the shadows after 60 years: The story of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel began in 1947, when they fell in love. But they had to hide their love for each other from even their families, until 2009, when they decided to cautiously reveal the nature of their relationship to their loved ones. The documentary "A Secret Love" (Netflix), directed by Chris Bolan, tells this incredible story. [Trailer]
(8) Many college-bound students will take a gap year: Quite a few high-school seniors say they will definitely or most likely delay their college attendance by a year. Google searches for "gap year" have increased by 60%. Meanwhile, many colleges are still trying to fill their open slots for fall 2020.
(9) A final thought: While we are distracted by the pandemic and its economic fallout, Trump is pushing and implementing his dictatorial vision for America. Examples include DoE's watered-down sexual assault rules on university campuses and DoJ's dropping of charges against Michael Flynn, who had confessed to his crimes.

2020/05/07 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UK newspapers celebrating Monday's easing of restrictions on economic activities Roohangiz Saminejad was the first Muslim Iranian woman to appear in movies Success at last: After several trips to Costco, today I finally emerged with paper towels! (1) Images of the day: [Left] UK newspapers celebrating Monday's easing of restrictions on economic activities. [Center] Roohanguiz, and breaking taboos (historic footage): She was the first Muslim Iranian woman to appear in movies, including the very first Persian talkie, "Dokhtar-e Lor" ("Lor Girl"). For this, she was disowned by friends and family and needed security protection for the many threats against her life. She eventually abandoned acting after making a few films. [Right] Success at last: After several trips to Costco, today I finally emerged with paper towels! P.S.: Does anyone else miss Costco samples?
(2) To mark National Nurses' Week, RNs protested PPE shortages in front of the White House, symbolically placing 88 pairs of shoes on the ground in memory of nurses who have perished due to COVID-19.
(3) From Rebecca Solnit's highly-acclaimed book, Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, Viking, 2020.
"Mostly when people write about the trauma of gender violence, it's described as one awful, exceptional event or relationship, as though you suddenly fell into the water, but what if you're swimming through it your whole life, and there is no dry land in sight?"
(4) Years of progress in addressing the campus rape culture is being flushed down the drain: Betsy DeVos releases new campus sexual-assault rules that will likely discourage victims from coming forward.
(5) On the importance of perspective, from an unknown author: "For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900. When you are 14, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday with 22 million people killed. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until you are 20. Fifty million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 MILLION. When you're 29, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, global GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren't even over the hill yet. When you're 41, the United States is fully pulled into WW II. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war and the Holocaust kills 11 million, 6 million of those were Jews. At 50, the Korean War starts and five million perish. At 55 the Vietnam War begins, and it doesn't end for 20 years. Four million people die in that conflict. Approaching your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could well have ended. Great leaders prevented that from happening. As you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends. Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you survive all of that? A kid in 1985 didn't think their 85-year-old grandparent understood how hard school was. Yet those grandparents (and now great grandparents) survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Let's try and keep things in perspective. Let's be smart, help each other out, and with a little time we will get through all of this as well."

2020/05/06 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some of the hospital beds and associated equipment purchased for and donated to a hospital in Tehran by Fanni graduates, class of 1968 Coronavirus has given us the cleanest air in decades In addition to upbeat music and colorful costumes that raise the spirit, two other features of Kurdish dancing, mix of men and women and holding hands, are noteworthy (1) Images of the day: [Left] Helping to fight the pandemic in Iran: Some of the hospital beds and associated monitoring equipment purchased for and donated to a hospital in Tehran by Fanni graduates, class of 1968. [Center] Coronavirus has given us the cleanest air in decades: Remember this fact when we return to normal. Many of the car trips we make are inessential and avoidable. Many of the possessions we collect, all made by expending natural resources and energy, are likewise dispensable. [Right] On Kurdish dancing: In addition to upbeat music and colorful costumes that raise the spirit, two other features of Kurdish dancing are noteworthy. Alternating positions of men and women in the line-up reflect their equal social status and holding hands represents community and solidarity. Unfortunately, after Iran's Islamic Revolution, mixed dancing has become much less common and we often see separate men's and women's lines.
(2) "Mourning in America": Playing on Ronald Reagan's "Morning in America" slogan, the Republican-led Lincoln Project airs an ad on Fox network that slams Trump for his failed presidency.
(3) ABC's David Muir went very soft on Trump: He got a rare interview opportunity outside of Fox, but failed to ask follow-up questions or challenge Trump's many blatant lies, including blaming Obama and the Russia probe for the lack of adequate preparation to deal with COVID-19. Interestingly, Trump essentially acknowledged that we were unprepared, contradicting his many previous claims that "we have it totally under control." [Tweet]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US skips the meeting in which world leaders pledged $8 billion to fight COVID-19.
- New York subways deliberately shut down for the first time in history to disinfect more than 500 stations.
- NASA confirms that it is working with Tom Cruise on a feature film about the International Space Station.
- Observation: Not only did we not get flying cars, even our planes aren't flying any more!
(5) Eight Starbucks locations in Goleta and Santa Barbara are re-opening: "In order for this to happen, employees must wear protective gear and have their temperature checked before shifts. Customers will be able to order and pay ahead of time using the Starbucks App and pick up orders at the door."
(6) Is a war between the US and China inevitable? Trump will be a major beneficiary of a conflict, but there are others, like Pompeo and his backers, who are worried about China's threat to US supremacy and are stoking the fire of war. Here is a 19-minute TED talk by Harvard political scientist Graham Allison, arguing that war between the two world powers might be inevitable. [Abridged version, with Persian subtitles]
(7) Humor from Iran: After the removal of four 0s from finanacial figures (that is, rolling out a new monetary unit equal to 10,000 rials), officials are thinking about also removing four 0s from Ayatollah Jannati's age!

2020/05/05 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Mona Lisa in coronavirus quarantine: No longer smiling! Older women photographed at Hajj pilgrimage wearing an 'I Love Sex' T-shirt Time magazine's clever cover image, issue of May 11, 2020: Open? Nope! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Mona Lisa in coronavirus quarantine: No longer smiling! [Center] Older woman photographed at Hajj pilgrimage: Reminds me of two young men chanting "Death to America" while wearing Harvard and Disney T-shirts. [Right] Time magazine's clever cover image, issue of May 11, 2020: Open? Nope!
(2) Quote of the day: "Realizing justice, freedom, and human rights is worth losing all that I have, including not hearing the voices of my Ali and Kiana." ~ Anti-death-penalty activist Narges Mohammadi, on her twins, who were 7 when she began serving a long prison term 6 years ago [Tweet]
(3) On Trump claiming future credit: He boasted that he's done a good job, because the 15 COVID-19 cases at the time "will soon go to 0" (the current number actually has 5 more 0s and a 1)! Now he says he's done a good job because deaths will not surpass 100,000. As a bonus, he will also eradicate AIDS in 8 years!
(4) Almost everyone saw this coming: Gun-packing goons protesting against shutdown orders, coming face-to-face with law-abiding citizens trying to enforce federal and state regulations, such as the Michigan security man, father of 7, who was shot to death for asking people to wear face-masks. The accused may or may not be Trump supporters, but it doesn't matter, when POTUS encourages lawless individuals to "liberate" their states (from Democratic governors). I am fearful for November 4th, the day after the US election.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- It was bound to happen: ABC News reporter Will Reeve went on air without pants and it showed! [Photo]
- Modern Persian music and dance: Beautifully choreographed and performed. [Video]
- Persian poetry: Baran Nikrah, a social-media star and a physics PhD student, recites one of her poems.
- Azeri dance: This performance features wonderful drum beats and a replica of a culturally-significant rock.
- Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" as you've never heard it before: Gimnazija Kranj Symphony performs.
- Violinist Caroline Campbell's wonderful rendition of the theme from "Skyfall" (music by Adele).
(6) Last night's casserole: I set out to use leftovers, such as baked sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms, which I combined with penne pasta, cheese, chicken, and marinara sauce. I gave some to my daughter (who isn't a pasta fan to begin with, and was skeptical about my choice of ingredients) and she complimented me thus: "It's not atrocious!" [Photos]
(7) Trump's "nobody knew what was coming" defense falling apart: This new whistle-blower complaint by ousted vaccine scientist Rick Bright is much more devastating than the one about "the perfect phone call." Administration officials ignored his January warnings and, instead, tried to push investment on unproven drugs.
(8) Drs. Fauci and Birx contradicted Trump on multiple occasions, so they couldn't stay. Firing them would have been politically inconvenient. The solution: Dissolve the entire coronavirus task-force!

2020/05/04 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Clean-up of nuclear waste from plutonium processing is still ongoing after 3 decades Chart: 'Peak Oil' doomsday prediction did not materialize Trump cannot hide his disdain for Anthony Fauci
Beautiful spring colors of Aligudarz, a county in the western Iranian province of Lorestan Radio invented by the Russian physicist Aleksandr S. Popov Two multi-panel paintings depicting the four seasons (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Clean-up of nuclear waste from plutonium processing is still ongoing after 3 decades: Located in Hanford, south-central Washington state, the 177 underground storage tanks holding remnants of materials from some 60,000 nuclear weapons built during World War II and the Cold War, hold a total of 212 million liters of toxic waste, enough to fill 85 Olympics-size swimming pools. [Top center] "Peak Oil" doomsday prediction did not materialize: Whereas a peak was reached as predicted, the post-peak drop did not pan out. (IEEE Spectrum article) [Top right] Trump cannot hide his disdain for Anthony Fauci: The White House has blocked Fauci's testimony at a Congressional hearing next week. [Bottom left] Beautiful spring colors of Aligudarz, a county in the western Iranian province of Lorestan. [Bottom center] The invention of radio: Russian physicist Aleksandr S. Popov demonstrated on May 7, 1895, a device for detecting electrical disturbances in the atmosphere, thereby proving the feasibility of radio transmission. Around the same time, Guglielmo Marconi was developing his radio apparatus in Italy, which led to his recognition as "the inventor of radio" in much of the world. The Soviet Union celebrated, and Russia now marks, "Radio Day" on May 7. (Photo credit, IEEE Spectrum, May 2020) [Bottom right] Two multi-panel paintings depicting the four seasons.
(2) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- SB News Press chief editor leaves paper after owner likens public-health restrictions to Nazi Germany.
- Najaf Daryabandari, prolific Iranian author and translator, dead at 90. [Tribute video]
- Nostalgia: Scenes, artifacts, and music from Tehran of six decades ago. [Video]
- Fishing with raw eggs and Pepsi: This guy makes it look so easy! [3-minute video]
- Nested fruits of various kinds (and a final surprise): I don't even know how this is possible! [Video]
- Modern Persian music: Played with the backdrop of streets and historical sites of Isfahan, Iran. [Video]
(3) Trump supporters are demanding that churches, hair salons, and tattoo parlors re-open: No mention whatsoever of bookstores or libraries!
(4) Innovation in coronavirus testing: A team of Israeli researchers has built upon previous work on a mathematical framework for detecting carriers of rare mutations within large populations to develop efficient and accurate coronavirus tests. This idea was used by the US during World War II, when samples from 5 soldiers were combined to test for syphilis. If the test came back negative, all five soldiers were cleared; if not, then individual tests were carried out. The Israeli technique pools samples from 384 subjects, with each individual sample incorporated into six different pools mixed by liquid-dispensing robots. This translates to only 48 tests required for all 384 subjects, with the outcome deduced in just one round. Because each individual sample is tested six times, the method more effectively addresses false positives or false negatives.

2020/05/03 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World Press Freedom Day: May 3 is when we celebrate press freedom where it exists and strive to establish it where it does not Several photos of my uncle Yacov and his family from decades ago English and Persian poems in memory and honor of my uncle Yacov Yussefian (1) Images of the day: [Left] World Press Freedom Day: May 3 is when we celebrate press freedom where it exists and remember marginalized and imprisoned journalists where it does not (Iran and Turkey, to name just two). In reality, every day is Press Freedom Day! [Center & Right] Ya'ghoub Yussefian (?-2020): The month of May has not been kind to the extended Parhami family so far. I have learned of my uncle Yacov's passing in Israel. He is survived by four sons. As the oldest of my mom's three brothers (she also has two sisters, one living and one deceased), he had been in poor health for some time. He became ill and lost the zest for life after his wife's passing. Because he lived in Israel, I had very little personal contact with him, other than during several trips there, including a 10-month stay in the late 1950s. I knew him in his younger years as a kind and good-humored man. I worte the two poems above in his memory and honor. May his soul rest in peace!
(2) World Press Freedom Day special: Ali Alinejad, brother of journalist Masih Alinejad, has been jailed in Iran for his sister's "sins" abroad: Yet, he has refused to disown his sister Masih.
(3) Iranian authorities are terrified of women activists: While many prisoners have been released due to the COVID-19 threat in prisons, women political prisoners are being guarded closely.
(4) Iran continues to batter dissidents: Ali Younesi, student of Sharif University of Technology and winner of an international gold medal in has not been heard from since his violent arrest a couple of weeks ago.
(5) The mother of all freight trains: This amazing train with 200 containers is used for shipping between China and Germany: It travels the 10,000 km distance in 2 weeks, whereas shipping by sea takes 2 months. Plans are underway to increase the number of containers to 300. [5-minute video]
(6) Synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction: I am doing what may be called semi-synchronous teaching myself, recording lectures and posting them a few days ahead of the originally-scheduled date, allowing my students to watch them at their preferred times. But it turns out that synchronous instruction has its benefits, in the sense of providing socially-isolated students a schedule and sense of community. It does, however, create disadvantages for some students, including those with disabilities, and it can also overwhelm professors.
(7) "The Magic of Content-Addressable Storage": This is the title of an interesting, and accessible, article by Konrad Hinsen in IEEE Computing in Science & Engineering (Vol. 22. No. 3, May/June 2020). [Access link]

2020/05/02 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sample of Mattel's #ThankYouHeroes collection of 16 action figures Scenes from Friday afternoon at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace An eagle and its big catch out of the water
Math puzzle: A regular hexagon is divided into six sections by connecting an interior point O to the midpoints of its sides (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Mattel's #ThankYouHeroes: The 16 action figures, whose sales will benefit front-line workers, include doctors, delivery drivers, nurses, EMTs, and store clerks. [Top center] Friday afternoon at Goleta's Camino Real Marketplace: Starbucks and a few other stores are closed. Restaurants have removed their indoors and outdoors seating, offering only take-out. The movie theater is now a popcorn store. The normally-bustling parking lot holds a few socially-distanced cars. Rather sad to see this de-facto town square devoid of life! [Top right] A bird of prey and its big catch: After struggling to pull the big fish out of the water, it is barely able to hold on, as it flies away. [Bottom left] Math puzzle: This is an extension, and a more challenging version, of the square puzzle I posted on April 30, 2020. A regular hexagon is divided into six sections by connecting an interior point O to the midpoints of its sides, as shown. Areas of three of the sections are given. What are the areas of the remaining sections? (Solution) [Bottom center & right] Nahid Sami Parhami, one of the tree last members of Parhami family's old guards, has passed away. May her soul Rest in Peace! I have composed a Persian poem in her memory and honor.
(2) International Teachers' Day is on Monday, October 5, 2020: A number of former students of mine from Iran were kind enough to send me congratulatory messages for the Iranian Teachers' Day, which is chosen to coincide with the date of passing of Ayatollah Morteza Mottahari (May 2, 1979; 12 Ordibehesht). While being remembered on any day is a thrill, choosing religion-specific days for such honors is against my beliefs. I prefer international celebrations.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Evidently, the virus did not miraculously go away by April: 4/01 cases = 220K; 4/30 cases = 1.1M.
- Joining New Zealand, Canada bans the buying and selling of some 1500 types of assault weapons. [Tweet]
- Universities are hurting financially and the inevitable layoff of staff and faculty may have begun. [Tweet]
- "Deep-speare" AI crafts Shakespearean verse that few readers could distinguish from the real thing.
(4) University of California campuses unlikely to fully re-open in fall, according to UC President Janet Napolitano: Financial losses in the month of March alone amounted to $600 million, half of it due to dorm-fees and other refunds to students and the other half at UC hospitals.
(5) "Information Technology and the Fight Against COVID-19": This is the title of a free IEEE Computer Society webinar, May 26, 2020, 6:00 PM EDT. [Registration link]
(6) Muhammad Ali's 1971 seriocomic musings on why everything of significance is white (Jesus, Santa Claus, angels, the White House), while a lot of bad things are black (black cat, the ugly duckling, blackmail).

2020/05/01 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Labor Day, aka May Day! (Historical photos) Finding friends (pen-pals) before the age of social media: Iranian magazine page with personal profiles/ads Screenshots from yesterday's Zoom meeting of the UCSB Faculty Legislature (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy International Labor Day, aka May Day! In these challenging times, we have come to appreciate the value of labor and its effects on our society's well-being and prosperity even more. The men and women in the world's labor force should be extolled, not exploited. [Center] Finding friends (pen-pals) before the age of social media: Iranian magazine page with personal profiles/ads. [Right] These screenshots are from yesterday's Zoom meeting of the UCSB Faculty Legislature (see the last item below).
(2) Universities adjust "commitment deposit policies": Traditionally, May 1 is decision day for prospective college students, but things are complicated this year. Some parents are comfortable paying a deposit to secure their child's spot in hopes that things will return to normal soon. Others are struggling to afford $500 right now, and the looming tuition. Schools are adjusting accordingly. Some are giving students until June 1 to make their decision. Others are still asking for commitment now, but accepting deposits later.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US GDP contracted by an annualized rate of 4.8% during Q1: Results of Q2 are expected to be even worse.
- Photos of empty Los Angeles locations you may never experience again. [Pictorial]
- Will glass tanning booths on the beach be the new normal?
- Tulip park in Iran: Located in Kondor Village of the Alborz Province, the colorful park is a sight to behold.
- One of my all-time favorite musical pieces, performed by a symphony orchestra: "Miserlou"
- And here is an energetic performance of "Miserlou" by a smallish group of virtuosos.
(4) UCSB Faculty Legislature meeting: Fresh out of the oven (announced in yesterday's meeting and not yet posted on-line), the list appears in the image above. I will describe two of the awards.
- UCSB Faculty Research Lecturer: Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Alison Butler has been chosen for this highest honor UCSB faculty can bestow on one of its members.
- UCSB Faculty Diversity Award was given to Art Professor Kip Fulbeck, College of Creative Studies.
A summary of other business discussed at the meeting follows.
- Professor Susannah Scott (Chemistry and Biochemistry) will be the incoming Academic Senate Chair.
- The status of fall quarter has not been settled, but commitment has been made to allow those international and domestic students who cannot attend for whatever reason to take courses remotely, even if the campus re-opens. This will create serious challenges for instructors, who will be faced with more work to manage the dual instruction mode. Statements of intent-to-register for fall 2020 are about 10% below normal, so we may have to resort to the waiting list to get our 5000 incoming freshmen.
- UC faces multibillion-dollar revenue loss, should the pandemic-caused restrictions and the associated economic slowdown continue past the fall quarter.
- There is some tension between the faculty and systemwide administration about who owns the copyright to recorded material from on-line teaching. Apparently, UC views the material as a possible source of revenue.

2020/04/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Puzzle: What number should replace the question mark? Puzzle: How many triangles are there in this diagram? Puzzle: What is the area of the blue section in the given square?
Puzzle: See how many of these movies you recognize from their emoji renderings. (1) Math and word puzzles: [Top left] What number should replace the question mark? [Top center] How many triangles are there in this diagram? [Top right] A square is divided into four sections by connecting an interior point O to the midpoints of the four sides, as shown. What is the area of the blue section? (Note: The drawing isn't to scale.) [Bottom] See how many of these movies you recognize from their emoji renderings.
(2) A self-evident statement: If your jokes and sarcastic remarks are always interpreted as serious suggestions, then perhaps you aren't good at humor or sarcasm!
(3) Image processing pioneer Thomas Huang dead at 83: His method of deriving a relationship between 2D and 3D imaging was foundational to innovations in 3D urban-modeling programs like Google's StreetView.
(4) Clean energy under attack: UCSB Professor Leah Stokes faults Michael Moore's new documentary, "Planet of the Humans," coming to us on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, as unfairly criticizing energy and climate activists, thus giving a gift to Big Oil. [The documentary in full: 100-minute video]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Armed protesters storm Michigan's State House: State troopers are protecting the Governor.
- Los Angeles is the first major city to offer coronavirus testing to everyone, with or without symptoms.
- NASA awards human moon-lander contract to three US companies: Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX.
- A couple of screenshots from my Zoom office hour early yesterday afternoon. [Photos]
- The Borowitz Report: VP Pence starts wearing mask after Dr. Fauci tells him it will protect him from women.
- A joyful and virtuous piano performance at a London train station. [Video]
- Andre Rieu introduces an incredibly-talented young soprano: Amira singing "O Mio Babbino Caro"
- Persian music: Iran's National Orchestra performs "Sabokbaal," a composition by the late Hossein Dehlavi.
(6) According to Ben Shapiro, discussing COVID-19 deaths in the US, those who have lived past the US life expectancy of 80 are disposable: This statistically-challenged moron does not realize that statistical measures, which are valid in large groups, cannot be applied to individuals. A particular 81-year-old may have 20 years of life left, whereas a particular 30-year-old may have 10 years left. We should not put anyone in a position to decide who's worth saving! Following his logic, we should line up all 80-year-olds in front of a firing squad and end their misery! The only problem is that eliminating people at 80 will reduce the life expectancy figure, so we will be forced to eliminate people earlier and earlier.
(7) Iranian sports celebs and social-media influencers, a couple with children who are 4 and 2, were summoned, questioned, and threatened by Iran's Ministry of Information. When will this nightmare end?
(8) Jared Kushner thinks the US response to coronavirus is a success story! He is the "many people" Trump constantly references when he wants to push a crazy idea. A shadow president controlling the orange puppet!

2020/04/29 (Wednesday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image for Yuval Noah Harari's '21 Lessons for the 21st Century' Cover image of Philip Rucker's and Carol Leonnig's 'A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America' Cover image of Malala Yousafzai's 'We Are Displaced' (1) Book review: Harari, Yuval Noah, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, unabridged audiobook on 10 CDs, read by Derek Perkins, Penguin/Random-House Audio, 2018. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Harari's previous two books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, explored the past and long-term future of us humans. His new best-selling social-science book, 21 Lessons, focuses on today's most-pressing issues and the key choices we face as we navigate the new landscape. Among the challenges highlighted are technological progress, the roles of computers and robots, the fake-news epidemic, the place of religion, and educating the next generation.
In 21 thought-provoking chapters, Harari untangles political and social issues in order to prepare us for fundamental changes brought about by big data, new jobs and skills, the threat of terrorism, and the potential demise of liberal democracy. One challenge that cuts across all human endeavors is the ability to function in a world filled with noise and uncertainty.
Here is a 59-minute video of Harari's October 2018 moderated talk about this book at Google. The video's caption describes Harari as a "macro-historian," a term I found interesting!
(2) Book review: Rucker, Philip and Carol Leonnig, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the authors and Hillary Huber, Penguin Audio, 2020.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The title of this book comes from Donald Trump's self-description, boasting about his stability and intelligence, apparently in response to reports of mental fickleness, volatility, and intellectual limitations. This is one of a continuously-appearing string of books about Trump and his dysfunctional administration. I have read and reviewed several of the previous volumes, but this one is head-and-shoulders above the others in terms of detail, sourcing, and connecting the dots.
While there is a great deal of overlap between this book and accounts by other authors, the book does contain a few exclusive scoops, but the most important contribution of the authors is in cataloging in great detail and providing context for how reasonable and patriotic individuals were driven from the administration, until only yes-men and yes-women were left.
For example, each Chief of Staff exerted less control than his immediate predecessor, in time letting Trump run loose with his crazy ideas, conspiracy theories, and idiotic pronouncements. John Kelly, Trump's second Chief of Staff, is quoted as saying that he chose to join the administration in order to defend the Constitution and the rule of law, pointing out that the oath he took "doesn't say anything about being loyal to the president. It doesn't say anything ... about the GOP being more important than your integrity."
If you choose to read this book, you can safely ignore other tell-all books that preceded it, though not future volumes. I have a sense that much remains untold about this abomination in the history of America. Rucker's and Leonning's story ends, as Trump launches his 2020 campaign in a Florida rally. Trump's handling of the coronavirus epidemic, and the inept individuals around him who enabled his murderous inaction, dishonest happy-talk, and peddling of dubious remedies will no doubt provide ample material for future tell-alls.
(3) Book review: Yousafzai, Malala, We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Neela Vaswani and Deepti Gupta (with prologue read by the author), Hachette Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education and women's/girls' rights activist. She begins this book with "I Am Displaced," which contains a brief version of her own story, told in greater detail in her previous book, I Am Malala. Her family was displaced, both within Pakistan, and outside their home country, when they eventually moved to England to escape atrocities by Taliban extremists who shot Malala in the head because of her advocacy on behalf of girls' education.
The second part, "We Are Displaced," contains the experiences of nine refugee girls and young women. Yousafzai provides a brief introduction to each story, with the narrative continued by the subject. Girls from Yemen, Syria, Congo, and other diverse lands are featured in this part. Yousafzai is uniquely qualified to tell these stories, given her own background and societal oppression as a girl. Fortunately for Yousafzai, her parents were enlightened and believed that girls and boys should be educated. Her father ran a school for girls, but under Taliban rule, was forced to shutter it.
An epilogue covers Yousafzai's 2018 visit to Pakistan after a 6-year absence. The 4-day visit to her old home in Swat Valley required extensive security provisions. Yousafzai reportedly said in an interview that she missed everything about Pakistan: Rivers and mountains, of course, but also the dirty streets and the garbage around their house.
I find it amazing that a girl who grew up in a society where women were considered inferior and suffered from numerous restrictions has accomplished so much by age 22: Winning the Nobel Peace Prize, writing best-selling books, and becoming one of the most-recognized advocates of women's/girls' rights!

2020/04/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Governor Cuomo's charts showing that blue states have been bailing out red states for decades Young women in Kabul, Afghanistan, nearly five decades ago (1972) Image of the Iranian flag is projected on Matterhorn in Switzerland
A few pencil drawings of mine from the end of the 1960s Brainwashed Iranians, at an audience with Khamenei, holding a banner that says they would give their lives for the Supreme Leader Cartoon: Role reversal (coronavirus wearing mask) (1) Images of the day: [Top left] On the federal government bailing out states or letting them go bankrupt: Governor Cuomo shames Mitch McConnell for wanting to bankrupt blue states. McConnell has said that NY and other coronavirus hot spots should not be bailed out. In fact, the charts Cuomo flashed show that blue states have been bailing out red states for decades. [Top center] Young women in Kabul, Afghanistan, nearly five decades ago (1972). [Top right] The Swiss project images of different flags, including Iran's, on Matterhorn to show international solidarity in the fight against coronavirus. [Bottom left] A few pencil drawings of mine from the end of the 1960s (50+ years ago). [Bottom center] Brainwashed Iranians, at an audience with Khamenei, holding a banner that says they would give their lives for the Supreme Leader. [Bottom right] Cartoon of the day: Role reversal!
(2) I was so spot-on in this April 28, 2014, Facebook post about racism in the US: "If someday a racist administration comes to power in the US, then we will see the true extent of the hidden racism in our society."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- History's lesson: San Francisco reopened too soon after the 1918 flu pandemic and paid a heavy price.
- Contributions to COVID-19 relief efforts: Hard cash vs. thoughts and prayers! [Meme]
- If you didn't know the leader of the US coronavirus task-force, would you be able to tall from this photo?
- Meat-supply disruptions may be coming: Meat processing plants have become coronavirus hot-spots.
- Why Trump is incapable of showing empathy toward COVID-19 victims: "I like people who didn't die, okay?"
- SuperbadTransmittableContagiousAwfulVirus: Mary Poppins sings about coronavirus! [Video]
- If classic Disney songs were about quarantine and social-distancing. [Video]
(4) Coronavirus humor: One-liners to bring a smile to your face in these challenging times.
- I am so excited! It's time to take the garbage out. I wonder what I should wear!
- The longer this goes on, the harder it will be to return to a society where pants and bras are required!
- Don't open any e-mail with the subject "Knock Knock." It's a Jehovah's Witness working from home!
- When we were little, our underwear had the days of the week on them. They'd be so helpful right now!
(5) We are living in an inverse-welfare state: Wealth is created at the bottom and devoured at the top, through a multitude of subsidies and tax breaks for billionaires and giant multinational corporations.
(6) Tehran University faculty and staff develop an open-source ventilator: According to an IEEE Spectrum newsletter, Professor Hadi Moradi and colleagues will share the design details with others worldwide.

2020/04/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the book 'Concurrency: The Works of Leslie Lamport' IEEE Computer Society honors women in computing The COVID-19 cloud's silver lining (1) Images of the day: [Left] Book introduction: Concurrency: The Works of Leslie Lamport, edited by Dahlia Malkhi, consists of two parts. In Part I, experts in the field of concurrency, where Lamport made seminal contributions, describe and interpret his original ideas. Part II contains a selection of Lamport's most-influential papers. In addition to academic/technical contributions to concurrent computation, Lamport is known for designing the widely-used LaTeX typesetting system (Lamport's TeX). [Center] Honoring women in computing: IEEE Computer Society accepts new nominations through October 1, 2020. Here is a list of women honored in recent years. [Right] The COVID-19 cloud's silver lining (see the next item below).
(2) The COVID-19 cloud's silver lining: Our world is in despair over the social isolation and economic woes resulting from the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, the glass is more than half-empty, but we may emerge from this crisis stronger and more focused on important things in life. We have already become aware of the critical importance of healthcare workers and other job categories we used to dismiss as boring and unglamorous, but which are really the engines that make our society work and move forward. As the saying goes, one week without sanitation workers leads to disastrous filth and odor, but years without clerics or reality-show stars won't cause a ripple in society! We have also become more aware of inequities in the way such pandemics affect different races and social group. The history of human progress is riddled with tragedies and disasters.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Reposting from April 27, 2017, along with today's update after three years. [Image]
- A compilation of Donald Trump's "scientific" musings: A large brain, indeed, but unclear what it's made of!
- The largest number of from-home collaborators that I have seen in producing a music video. [Image]
- Delightful art humor: Life imitates art for these stay-at-homers during the coronavirus pandemic.
- It takes a village: Washington Conservatory musicians play together on a single piano, to delightful effect.
- Persian music: Wonderful performance of "Del-e Sheyda" by Hessar, an all-women ensemble.
- Persian music: The newest version of "Ta'neh" ("Taunt"), a song made famous by Mahasti.
(4) Immigrant-bashing continues amid the pandemic: More than a million Americans who are married to immigrants without Social Security Numbers aren't eligible for $1200 stimulus payments.
(5) Mother Teresa wants an Indiana GOP congressional candidate to stop using her image in campaign ads: I guess she doesn't like tax cuts for the rich, stripping the poor of healt insurance, and similar policies!
(6) Google claims its AI design tool can produce a chip layout, which honors placement-density and routing-congestion constraints, in hours instead of weeks it would take human experts: Rather than each time starting from scratch, Google's AI leverages knowledge gained from placing prior chips to improve over time.
(7) Some good news: These COVID-19 death-rate charts, for the US (top) and California, indicate that social-distancing orders can be lifted (with proper testing and contact-tracing) around May 18 for our state and in early June for the entire country.
(8) Sea-level rise and local Santa Barbara marshlands: This 13-minute presentation by UCSB researchers Andrew Brooks and Charles Lester provides an overview of how sea-level rise might affect us locally in Santa Barbara. The presentation is part of the "UCSB Reads 2020" program. [Main talk, by author Elizabeth Rush]

2020/04/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker cartoon: With everyone wearing masks, it's impossible to tell who in the cartoon is speaking Photo of a group of fully-veiled women Cartoon: The Adam and Eve story in China has a happy ending, because the snake, not the Apple, is eaten
The May 2020 issue of 'Communications of the ACM<' has a cover feature on fairness in machine learning Next ACM President will be a woman The April 2020 issue of 'IEEE Computer' magazine stresses the fact that complexity is at odds with trustworthiness (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cartoonists' dilemma (from The New Yorker): "Personally, I worry that, with everyone wearing masks, readers won't be able to tell who in the cartoon is speaking." [Top center] All-purpose commemorative photo: No matter how many places this group of women visits, there in no need to take more photos! [Top right] The Adam and Eve story in China: It has a happy ending, because the snake, not the Apple, is eaten and they live in heaven happily ever after! [Bottom left] The May 2020 issue of Communications of the ACM has a cover feature on fairness in machine learning. [Bottom center] Next ACM President will be a woman: Both candidates for ACM's top leadership position for the 2-year period from July 2020 to June 2022 are women. [Bottom right] The April 2020 issue of IEEE Computer magazine stresses the fact that complexity is at odds with trustworthiness: Two modern examples where needless complexities in design and operation led to disaster are the Boeing 737 MAX jetliner and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
(2) Dr. Deborah Birx on "Meet the Press" this morning: She did not answer even one question directly and honestly, citing unrelated facts and using scientific jargon to obfuscate. She clearly has a political appointment in her sight. There are reports that she is being considered as HHS Secretary, replacing Alex Azar.
(3) Republicans are worried about losing the Senate, as Trump sinks: They seem to be blaming Trump for their own doings. GOP Senators up for re-election fully deserve being ousted!
(4) Melania Trump celebrates her 50th birthday: Donald Trump's short tweet ("Happy Birthday to Melania, our great First Lady!") calls her a "great First Lady," but does not contain a single affectionate word!
(5) How orchestras coordinate their performances in the age of social distancing: They can't just play simultaneously as usual, given the varying communication latencies between different points. I learned today that their leader/conductor produces a master tape, containing the piano part, say, along with a beat guide, that they use at home to record their portions of the performance. Musicians have to be able to perform their parts individually, in isolation, for this to work. Someone then puts the various recordings together, producing the video that depicts dozens of musicians performing together. It's definitely more complicated than doing FaceTime with family members! [Screenshot]
(6) My improvised lasagna dinner: These leftover portions from tonight's dinner look like spaghetti, but they are really lasagna, made with spaghetti noodles. Not seen in the photo is a bottom layer of fried potato slices (tah-dig) and garlic bread on the side.

2020/04/25 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sunset photos taken around Devereux Slough and Coal Oil Point: Batch 1 Bittersweet word-play, for Persian-speakers Sunset photos taken around Devereux Slough and Coal Oil Point: Batch 2 (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Walking around the Devereux Slough and Goleta's Coal Oil Point: After walking with my daughter and taking videos of surfers (Video 1, Video 2), I went out for a second solo round and photographed the gorgeous sunset from various vantage points. Surfers were out in full force, due to a combination of gorgeous weather and excellent waves! [Center] Bittersweet word-play, for Persian-speakers.
(2) A decades-old conjecture about computational complexity is proven in just a few pages: Typically, longstanding open problems tend to have complicated solutions. A prime example is Fermat's Last Theorem that persisted for 358 years and eventually required 100+ pages to prove. By contrast, Emory University mathematician Hao Huang needed just 2 pages to complete the proof of the Boolean Sensitivity Conjecture, dealing with a particular measure of computational complexity.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Sources report that Kim Jong Un has died of heart surgery complications. No confirmation from NK yet.
- Dr. Anthony Fauci, who had joked that he wanted to be portrayed on SNL by Brad Pitt, got his wish tonight!
- Mitt Romney endorses Joe Biden: A story meant as satire goes viral, with many falling for it!
- Quote of the day: "Every disaster movie begins with a scientist being ignored." ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson
- In-house data centers are migrating to the cloud: 80% of corporate data centers will be shuttered by 2025.
- Posted on April 25, 2019, this cartoon reminded me that now, every day is Take-Your-Child-to-Work Day!
(4) Humor: "A bunch of governors have said that my opinion about allowing states to go bankrupt is incredibly irresponsible. I've been morally bankrupt for years. It's not that bad." ~ US Senator Mitch McConnell
(5) A new word is born: "Multislacking" is a relatively new word that means having multiple windows open on your screen to create the appearance of working, while actually slacking. This is one of the many interesting things I learned from Professor Anne Curzan's delightful course "The Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins," a set of 36 lectures in the "Great Courses" series, which I reviewed on GoodReads last year.
(6) Nepotism personified: While the jobless ranks swell and numerous small businesses fold, Kushner Cos. gets an $800 million federally-backed apartment loan.

2020/04/24 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Remembering the Armenian genocide on its 105th anniversary Cartoon: The administration of billionaires doing the bidding of the billionaires Humor: The Lysol brand seizes a marketing opportunity in treating COVID-19 patients! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Remembering the Armenian genocide on its 105th anniversary: Yes, there are Holocaust deniers, but their number pales compared with those who deny the mass murder of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, generally believed to have started on April 24, 1915. [Center] Cartoon of the day: The administration of billionaires doing the bidding of the billionaires. [Right] Humor: The Lysol brand seizes a marketing opportunity in treating COVID-19 patients!
(2) Stable genius proposes new coronavirus therapies: Trump's ideas about disinfecting the inside of your body with ultraviolet light or household cleaners ridiculed.
(3) Cartoon caption of the day (for those who listened to Marie Kondo and are stuck at home, with not much to keep them busy): "I'm not the one who threw out everything that didn't spark joy, Robert. Enjoy spending the next few months rolling and unrolling your seven T-shirts."
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The United Nations fears coronavirus-related famines of "Biblical proportions" in developing countries.
- Giuliani thinks if we do contact-tracing for coronavirus, we should also do it for heart disease & cancer!
- Trump's golf resorts seek coronavirus bailout money from Ireland and Scotland to pay workers' salaries.
- Trump has a $211 million loan from the state-owned Bank of China, which will come due in 2022.
- Jordanian study claims that Arabs are genetically immune to coronavirus.
- Iranian folk music and dance: From the Caspian-Sea Region. [Video]
- Azeri music and dance: The dance seems to have been modernized a bit. [Video]
(5) USPS won't get bailout money unless it raises prices: Yet another devious plan to tax the middle and lower classes, via higher postal rates and across-the-board price hikes triggered by increased shipping costs.
(6) Trump's imaginary friend didn't know that there are 184 countries in the world: And he was playing with reporters when he suggested that injecting disinfectants can help cure COVID-19 (although he was clearly asking questions of, and referring to promises made by, medical professionals on the coronavirus task force, and they acknowledged his queries as he ranted).
(7) Celebrating 30 years of Hubble Space Telescope: Hubble helped us explore distant galaxies and showed us in vivid colors parts of our universe that we had never seen before. [Video]
(8) Final thought for the day: In a country with many leading researchers, including more Nobel Laureates than any other country, isn't it amazing that an illiterate politician dispenses medical advice?

2020/04/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
MIT Professor Daniela Rus to serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology Calligraphic rendering of the Persian verse 'Love turns thorns into flowers' Photo of Nasrin Sotoudeh, the conscientious and courageous human-rights activist
A nice aerial photo of Isfahan, Iran, featuring Zayandeh Rood and one of its historic bridges Cartoon: Our planet celebrated Earth Day with sister planets via a Zoom meeting! Quarantina Street in downtown Santa Barbara is tied to multiple past pandemics since 1851 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] MIT Professor Daniela Rus to serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology: Rus is Director of Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and College of Computing's Deputy Dean of Research. She works in robotics, AI, and data science. [Top center] Calligraphic rendering of the Persian verse "Love turns thorns into flowers." [Top right] Nasrin Sotoudeh is still serving a long prison term: More than a year ago, I included a photo of Sotoudeh on my traditional Norooz/Nowruz haft-seen spread. I am still keeping that beautiful photo on display, as a daily reminder of the horrible injustice dealt to this conscientious and courageous human-rights activist. [Bottom left] A nice aerial photo of Isfahan, Iran, featuring Zayandeh Rood and one of its historic bridges. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Our planet celebrated Earth Day with sister planets via a Zoom meeting! [Bottom right] Local Santa Barbara history: Quarantina Street in downtown Santa Barbara is tied to multiple past pandemics since 1851 (video).
(2) Governor Cuomo slams Senator McConnell for saying that the feds should not bail out New York: He points out that it is NY that bails out states like Kentucky by putting more into the federal coffers than they take out!
(3) College campuses planning for the fall term: Several, including Boston University and Cal State Fullerton, have announced that they will continue with on-line instruction through the fall term. Others, like Purdue, plan to bring the students back to campus in August. Most remain undecided at this time.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- College students forced to go home by the coronavirus pandemic stuck paying rent for empty apartments.
- A love story from the time of World War II, and an unlikely reunion of the lovebirds after 75 years!
- Kurdish music: Two different styles, but equally pleasant! [Video 1] [Video 2]
- Creative dancing with traditional Persian music: "Circle," featuring Ziya Azazi. [Video]
- Humor: Trump singing an Indian song! [Deep-fake video]
- Indian music: Romantic comedy, old Indian style. Indian films are now a tad more sophisticated! [Video]
(5) California has sent 36 doctors and nurses to NYC: These compassionate souls are putting their lives at risk and donating their time to help fellow-Americans and to bring back first-hand experience to our state.
(6) Certain features of modern homes, such as tiled bathrooms and easily cleaned kitchen surfaces, have their origins in the 1918 Spanish-Flu pandemic. Experts believe that COVID-19 will also affect future home designs. A possible change: Prominent and easily-accessible sinks for frequent hand-washing.

2020/04/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Earth Day! My Earth Day selfie, taken as I awaited students during my Zoom on-line office hours Lapel pin: Save your earth, you can't get off (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Commemorating the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, 2020 (see the next item below). [Center] My Earth Day selfie, taken as I awaited students during my Zoom on-line office hours: Scrapes from last week's fall while climbing a beach cliff are nearly healed. I was scolded by friends and family members, who told me I was getting too old for adventures and "Tarzan-like behavior"! My response was that each person should decide for himself or herself what activities make life worth living. If one sat down all day, the probability of taking a fall would be near-zero, but then ...
(2) Happy Earth Day: Today, April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, inaugurated a year after the Santa Barbara oil spill of winter 1969, which remains the largest spill off the coast of California (it is now the all-time third largest, including the subsequent Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents). This year, there is no Earth Day Festival in Santa Barbara, but various on-line events have been scheduled to mark the occasion, including Elizabeth Rush's 4:00 PM on-line talk. Details are in the last item below.
(3) How the Earth has changed over the past 50 years: As research and monitoring projects go dark or dim, climate, weather, and other data sets going back for decades will soon develop coronavirus-associated gaps.
(4) Today's webinar by author Elizabeth Rush: In a talk sponsored by UCSB Library, Rush discussed her book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, the "UCSB Reads 2020" selection for campus and community reading/exchange. After being introduced by UCSB's David Pellow, Rush began by showing an 11-minute documentary film entitled "Home or High Water," in which "Rush shares her experience among coastal communities large and small, from the storm-ravaged eastern shore of Staten Island to the disappearing bayous of Louisiana."
An objective of Rush in writing her book was to show that sea-level rise has repercussions here in the US, whereas most people associate coastal flooding and disappearing lands with far-away regions of the world, such as Bangladesh. In order to make people relate to the problem, she felt the need for telling stories from communities closer to home. Likewise, if you want Mexicans to see the magnitude of the problem, you need to relate stories from communities in Mexico, not Asia or the US.
One dire consequence of sea-level rise is the creation of "climate refugees." To appreciate the scope of this problem, consider that a single storm, Hurricane Maria, led to 130,000 people leaving Puerto Rico. Throughout Rising, Rush tells stories about families, who after multiple storms and floods, give up their fight and relocate to higher grounds.
Rush is now working on another book about her 2.5-month journey alongside researchers investigating Antarctica's "Doomsday Glacier" to gather observational data about its rapidly-crumbling ice. Currently 8 months pregnant, Rush will be weaving the glacier story with her own journey through pregnancy, including challenges induced by COVID-19.
Rush explained that we humans are pretty good at thinking about three generations: our own, our parents', and our children's. So, even though climate change is a greater peril than COVID-19, the immediacy of the pandemic deprives the other problems of due attention. When we try to talk about the year 2100, people lose focus. In today's electronics age, we constantly concentrate on a screen that is 12-18 inches away from us. This proximity makes it even harder to see events happening across space and time. She joked that we are becoming Zoombies!
I submitted the following written question, for which there was no time before the webinar ended at 5:15. There is a great deal of skepticism among the general public about models that predict catastrophes (climate change, pandemics, overpopulation). What should we do to improve these models and to convince the skeptical general public that models do not have to be 100% accurate to give us useful warnings?
[Video recording of today's webinar] [Facebook event page] [Event poster] [Zoom meeting, with Q&A] [Live-stream via UCSB Library's Facebook page] [My 4-star review of Rising on GoodReads]

2020/04/21 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of Ezra Klein's 'Why We're Polarized' No traditional royal gun-salute for today's 94th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II A 2-hour concert filmed at the 2020 Grammys aired tonight on CBS to honor Prince
Super-clean air in downtown Los Angeles Cartoon: Cinderella, in the age of coronavirus Anti-vaxxers are pro-choice when it comes to their own bodies: They just want to control other people's bodies! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized (see my review under the last item below). [Top center] No traditional royal gun-salute for today's 94th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II: She has ruled Britain for 68 years. [Top right] A 2-hour concert filmed at the 2020 Grammys aired tonight on CBS to honor Prince on the 4th anniversary of his death. [Bottom left] A gorgeous week ahead in Santa Barbara and super-clean air in downtown Los Angeles: Would have been much more enjoyable without the vile virus and POTUS! [Bottom center] Cinderella, in the age of coronavirus: "Quick! Someone give me a Clorox wipe." [Bottom right] Anti-vaxxers are pro-choice when it comes to their own bodies: They just want to control other people's bodies!
(2) Joke of the day (with reference to oil futures prices dropping below zero): "I told you that after the Revolution oil will be free!" ~ Iran's former Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini [Photo]
(3) A woman ruler for North Korea? With Kim Jong Un not seen in public for a long time, there is much speculation about his health after surgery and the future role of his trusted sister in case of his death.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- American can-do story: Protective-gear workers slept at factory for a month, as they split 12-hour shifts.
- Demands by college students for tuition-and-fees refund escalate.
- Harvard University, with its $41 billion endowment fund, gets $9 million in taxpayer CARES aid.
- UCSB holds a virtual open house for admitted students on Wednesday 4/22, 1:00-7:00 PM PDT.
- Persian poetry and music in honor of poet-philosopher Sa'adi's birthday. [Video]
- Persian music: Musicians perform the oldie song "Lab-e Darya" ("Sea Shore") from their homes.
(5) Book review: Klein, Ezra, Why We're Polarized, Unabridged MP3 audiobook read by the author, Simon & Schuster Audio, 2020. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Once upon a time, our two major political parties contained a somewhat even distribution of economic, social, and racial groups. There was little change when one party gave up power and the other one took over. This continuity or moderation, which has been a hallmark of the American political system, preventing wild policy swings with the change of leadership, is now being threatened, as one party reverses the decisions of another one and imposes its own priorities, only to be overturned in the next change of guard. Such wild swings are at the root of businesses shunning long-term planning, focusing instead on their annual metrics or, worse, on quarterly performance.
The problem began in the 1960s, when Democrats championed civil-rights legislation. Blacks and other minorities were thus drawn to the Democratic party, while many white Democrats defected to the Republican party. The formerly-very-similar parties thus assumed much different economic, social, and racial distributions. The increased homogeneity within the parties intensified their external conflicts, aided, in part, by our evolutionary urges toward tribalism.
With changes in their compositions, the two parties have been moving further apart, cementing their differences with each new election. Klein tells us, among other things, that the Republicans call their party "The Party of Lincoln," mostly to hide the fact that the hard-line conservative and racist/bigot Strom Thurmond was its actual architect. Thurmond single-handedly directed the mass defection of white Democrats to the Republican party.
So, to recap, human beings are tribal and tend to organize around their perceptions of friends and enemies. The current political-party structure in the US is a reflection of this tribalism, which was kept in check until a few decades ago by wise political and social leaders and is now rearing its ugly head. As Richard Dawkins put it, "the universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. ... DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music." What about our reasoning mind, you might ask? It's a scary thought, but could it be that our reasoning mind is merely a rationalization of our loyalties and prejudices?

2020/04/20 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This guy thinks COVID-19 is a lie, but, judging by his protective gear, he isn't absolutely sure! Mug, bearing the photo of Anthony Fauci face-palming Trump supporters have turned pro-choice when it comes to wearing breathing masks!
Monetary value of a human life (scale) Cartoon: Coronavirus squeezing in on Tehran's Metro! Woman professor teaches an on-line class in Iran (1) Images of the day: [Top left] This guy thinks COVID-19 is a lie, but, judging by his protective gear, he isn't absolutely sure! [Top center] Anthony Fauci mug: Get it before it's gone, or he's gone! Fauci-palming should be the new name for the face-palming emoji! [Top right] Never thought such a day would come: Trump supporters are now pro-choice! [Bottom left] Risk assessment in policy-making and engineering design, or the monetary vlaue of a human life (see the last item below). [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: New passenger squeezing in on Tehran's Metro! [Bottom right] Woman professor teaches an on-line class in Iran.
(2) This is why Trump hates oversight: The funds set aside to help small businesses were depleted because loans were given to some giant hotel and restaurant chains.
(3) Fairness doesn't mean that "the other side" composed of small groups of anti-science and anti-logic protesters should be given the same coverage as the entire medical establishment, public-health experts, and a majority of Americans who approve of social-distancing measures.
(4) The oil glut hits the markets: There is so much excess oil in the world that all storage facilities are full, so, for the first time in history, oil future prices have gone negative (people who own the options must pay big bucks to get rid of them).
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Canadian police arrests mass shooter who killed at least 16 in Nova Scotia, disguised as a police officer.
- While Trump eggs on anti-lockdown protesters, VP Pence is siding with governors facing the protests.
- Clever street art: Revolution, with love! [Photo]
- Persian music: Hassan Kasaei's instrumental piece "Salaam" performed by Hamavayan Ensemble.
(6) Trading off citizens' lives for economic recovery (it isn't as crazy as it sounds): I am writing this essay, because there is much discussion about saving human lives vs. economic recovery in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Let me begin with an answer, which I found jarring upon my first encounter, and then go back to explain. The current going rate for a human life is roughly $10 million! I won't blame you if you protest, but please read on!
In policy-making and tech development, we are forced to place a monetary value on a human life. This may seem cold and cruel, but we really have no choice. Consider the dilemma faced by an airplane designer. The design process often involves choosing a target life-critical failure probability, such as 1-in-100-millions, which means that for an average flight, there is a small, but non-zero probability of 10^–8 that the plane crashes, killing all on board. We cannot make this probability zero, no matter how hard we try or how much time and money we spend. It may be feasible to reduce the probability to 1-in-a-billion, say, but that may increase the cost of the plane ten-fold or more.
Let's say the plane carries an average of 100 passengers and that it flies 10,000 times over its life, to use round numbers. The expected number of passenger deaths over the plane's life will be (10^–8)(10^4)(10^2) = 0.01. If a human life is worth $10 million, as reflected in the payment for each fatality upon a plane crash, then the airline/plane-manufacturer must budget $100,000 for payments due to the plane's crash (or, alternatively, buy insurance for it). The loss of the plane itself is a much bigger financial hit to the airline. From an economic standpoint, the plane manufacturer and the airline are not motivated to reduce the crash probability by making the plane ten times more expensive, given the relatively low budget of $100,000 in average payments due to fatalities.
Now, let's see how a public-safety advocate or official may view the problem above. S/He may take the view that human life is too precious to accept even one fatality, but such a pronouncement is just a slogan. We accept fatalities all the time. When we pay double the salary for a job that has a high risk of death, we are essentially putting a value on human life, which equals the difference in lifetime pay between the dangerous job and an ordinary low-risk job, divided by death probability. If the difference in lifetime payment is $1 million and the cumulative death probability is 0.1, then we are valuing a life at $10 million. This trade-off is essentially a contract between the employer offering the job and the employee who accepts it.
Here is a thought experiment I often use in my graduate course on fault-tolerant computing to get the students thinking about the ethical issues involved in evaluating life-critical computer system failures. Suppose you are in a stadium of 100,000 people and a terrorist announces that he will randomly kill one of the spectators, but he will remove those who make a payment of $100 from the pool of candidates. Are you willing to make the payment? Your risk of death is 10^–5 and the $100 payment represents a life valuation of $100/(10^–5) = $10^7. Most people won't pay the $100 and accept the 10^–5 risk of death. Of course, the decision depends on whether you are a poor student or a multi-millionaire watching the game from a luxury box, so the valuation of one's own life has a personal/circumstantial component.
I admit that the analyses above are over-simplified, but the reality isn't much removed from this simple view. To reiterate, policy-making and engineering design decisions, whether we are building a passenger-jet, a bridge, or a space station, involve life-vs.-cost trade-offs in the context of socially-acceptable risks.

2020/04/19 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of 'National Review': The Battle of COVID-19 Screenshots from the 2-hour 'One World' concert carried last night by ABC, NBC, and CBS: Batch 1 The war in Afghanistan rages on amid the coronavirus pandemic
Screenshots from the 2-hour 'One World' concert carried last night by ABC, NBC, and CBS: Batch 3 Screenshots from the 2-hour 'One World' concert carried last night by ABC, NBC, and CBS: Batch 2 Screenshots from the 2-hour 'One World' concert carried last night by ABC, NBC, and CBS: Batch 4 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The cover story of National Review ("The Battle of COVID-19") says it all. [Top right] The war in Afghanistan rages on amid the coronavirus pandemic. [Top center & bottom row] "One World: Together at Home": Screenshots from a 2-hour concert carried last night by ABC, NBC, and CBS. Great music from internationally-acclaimed artists. More importantly, segments featuring those who put their lives at risk to help, including health workers, a woman giving haircuts to the homeless, and groups feeding the needy. I felt ashamed of how little I have been doing to help!
(2) Criminally sad: Trump encourages protestors to "liberate" their states from restrictions imposed by governors following his administration's guidelines, which he uttered (reluctantly, it seems) at press briefings!
(3) Press briefing or campaign rally? During Yesterday's COVID-19 briefing, Trump called Joe Biden "a patsy" and Vladimir Putin "a gentleman." Stop airing this festival of lies and stupid pronouncements!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The data is in: Coronavirus infection, hospitalization, and death rates depend on ethnicity/race. [Chart]
- Persian music: A song about rain, with scenes from Isfahan, Iran, on a rainy day. [1-minute video]
- Persian music: The oldie song "Shaaneh" ("Comb"), with some Turkish lyrics.
- Persian music: A powerful rendition of the old popular song "Beh Khaater-e To" ("For Your Sake").
- Lady Struna performs soothing music on a santur-like instrument. [Also, Pink Floyd's "The Wall"]
- Ode to on-line teaching: Talented teacher wrote a song to express her feelings about on-line instruction.
(5) Extreme hypocrisy: Donald Trump, who is fond of the expressions "a lot of people think" and "an extremely credible source tells me," faults the media for using anonymous sources.
(6) Access Engineering: McGraw-Hill offers free access to its on-line content database for UCSB Library patrons through May 31, 2020. Check with your library to see if they have the same offer.
(7) Trump now blames China and World Health Organization for his inept COVID-19 response: But WHO was issuing warnings and guidelines, week after week, as Trump held rallies, praised China, and went golfing!
(8) Final thought for the day: Economist Jeffrey Sachs bashes Trump in his concluding remarks of February 5, 2020, at a conference on "New Forms of Solidarity: Towards Fraternal Inclusion, Integration, and Innovation."

2020/04/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover story of the May 2020 issue of 'Scientific American' suggests that we are on the verge of conquering Alzheimer's Art in unlikely places: Accidental shadows (4 panels) Cover image of the book 'Revolution and Its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran'
Saudi Princess Basmah reveals that she is in prison Selfie at my workstation, with band-aid on my forehead Photo of NASA astronaut Jessica Meir, who just returned home after 200+ days at the ISS (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cover story of the May 2020 issue of Scientific American suggests that we are on the verge of conquering Alzheimer's. [Top center] Art showing up in unlikely places: Accidental shadows. [Top right] Cover image of Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi's Revolution and Its Discontents: Political Thought and Reform in Iran, 2019. [Bottom left] Saudi Princess Basmah, who had called for Saudi Arabia to become a constitutional monarchy, reveals that she is in prison. [Bottom center] I took this selfie at my workstation this morning, where I plan to prepare a couple of course lectures for the coming week and, later during the day, record them: Thanks to everyone who expressed concern and sent well-wishes. [Bottom right] NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan, along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka, have returned to Earth after spending 200+ days at the International Space Station.
(2) Promoting and using medical "experts" like Dr. Mehmet Oz, who think it's no big deal if 2-3% of children die after reopening of schools should be criminalized. [Tweet]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Returning to normal too quickly can wipe out progress in flattening the curve through social-distancing.
- Anti-vaxxers and climate-science deniers target a new enemy in science: Coronavirus-spread models.
- Super-rich US Treasury Secretary thinks Americans can get through 10 weeks on $1200 stimulus pay!
- Iranian teen chess prodigy, Alireza Firouzja, scores shocking victory over #1 grandmaster Magnus Carlsen.
- Iranian musicians play on roof-tops during the stay-home period. [Pictorial]
- Ziba Shirazi's musical life story, featuring songs she grew up with, is now available on-line. [Part 1] [Part 2]
(4) Cryptogrphy: Here is an introductory lecture on cryptography, prepared for my freshman seminar course, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering" (UCSB ECE 1B). In this course, each lecture begins with puzzles, which are then related to practical and research problems in computer engineering.
(5) On Saturday, April 18, "One World: Together at Home," a series of concerts from 100+ musicians and celebrities will be streamed worldwide in support of healthcare workers and the World Health Organization. Watch on NBC, CBS, ABC and most major social media platforms, beginning at 8:00 PM PDT.

2020/04/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Lady Liberty follows New York's face-mask order Republican chart of disaster fatalities Healthcare workers display photos to help patients see the real person behind the protective gear
Walking from home to Goleta Beach Park and getting injured by a fall Concentration puzzle: How many squares are there in this diagram? Photos shot while walking from home to Goleta Beach Park (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Lady Liberty follows New York's face-mask order. [Top center] Republican chart of disaster fatalities: The rightmost bar has now shrunk to more than 30,000! [Top right] Trending: Healthcare workers display photos of themselves to help patients see the real person behind the protective gear. [Bottom left & right] Walking to Goleta Beach Park (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Puzzle: How many squares are there in this diagram? (Answer is in the last item below.)
(2) Low tide allowed me to walk along the beach, all the way from home to Goleta Beach Park: The invigorating walk and beautiful sunny afternoon were somewhat marred by a fall when trying to climb a rock near Goleta Beach. No major damage though; just a few scrapes! [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4] Right after I finished shooting the fourth video, a nasty wave soaked me!
(3) Classical music: "Sword Dance," by the Armenian composer Aram Iljitsch Khachaturian, who also has compositions based on Persian folk music, a reflection of his early training in Tehran.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Ultraviolet LEDs prove effective in eliminating coronavirus from surfaces and, potentially, air and water.
- White Supremacist, planning to blow up a nursing home in Massachusetts on "Jew killing day," arrested.
- Research misconduct: Rice University pays $3.7 million to settle National Science Foundation fraud claims.
- New guests arrive on the south coast of France, now that the tourists are gone. [Video]
- UCSB Library's on-line exhibitions: Past events to enjoy, as we await the return to normal on campus.
- Kurdish women discard their despised compulsory headscarves and dance! [Video]
(5) UCSB's Pollock Theater presents classic films: Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" (1963; available on Amazon Prime Video), along with previously-recorded post-screening discussion with actress/author Tippi Hedren.
(6) UCSB's Pollock Theater presents classic films: Frank Capra's "Meet John Doe" (1941; available on Amazon Prime Video), along with previously-recorded post-screening discussion with author Victoria Riskin.
(7) The answer to the square-counting puzzle is 51: In counting tasks like this, one must devise a systematic method to ensure that nothing is overlooked. For example, one can count squares of various sizes separately, beginning with the smallest 1x1 squares, then proceeding to 2x2 squares, and so on. In this particular puzzle, there are two 3x3 squares that are the most-difficult to see; so, 49 is a common wrong answer.

2020/04/15 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
ACM Athena Lecturer for 2020-21: Sarit Kraus of Bar-Ilan University receives the honor Images from ACM Web talk on history and future of computer graphics Los Angeles County billboard: Being a hero has never been easier. Stay home to save lives (1) Images of the day: [Left] ACM Athena Lecturer for 2020-21: Sarit Kraus of Bar-Ilan University receives the honor for foundational contributions to artificial intelligence, notably to multi-agent systems, human-agent interaction, autonomous agents, and nonmonotonic reasoning. [Center] ACM Web talk on history and future of computer graphics (see the last item below). [Right] Los Angeles County billboard: Being a hero has never been easier. Stay home to save lives.
(2) Iran claims technological superiority: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps claim to have invented a machine that detects the presence of coronavirus from a distance of 100 meters. The device is eerily similar to a 2013 "invention" of a universal detector by someone who was later convicted for fraud! [Tweets] [Video]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Tax filing deadline, normally on April 15, has been extended by 3 months to July 15.
- Coronavirus-related scams keep coming: The latest is IRS/stimuls-check scam. Stay vigilant!
- Many students are rethinking their college choices, citing cost-cutting and staying closer to home.
- Pastors sue California's Governor Gavin Newsome for "criminalizing the free exercise of religion."
- Life under COVID-19 lockdown provides a window into how humans might fare during a mission to Mars.
- Drone footage of the eery calm on Los-Angeles-area beaches. [Video]
- Heavenly guitar music ("Malaguena"), with dancing. [Video]
- Historic Iranian wedding photos: Slide show, with nostalgic Persian music.
(4) "Past, Present and Future of Computer Graphics: Perspective from Two Forerunners on the Inception and Evolution of CG": This was the title of yesterday's ACM-sponsored Web-talk by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and 2019 Turing Award Laureate, and Richard Chuang, co-founder of PDI/Dreamworks. Scheduled to run for 1 hour, this facsinating talk, moderated by Juan Miguel de Joya, actually took 2 hours.
Both speakers began by acknowledging the heroic efforts of healthcare and other essential workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19, as we sit at home and pursue our technical interests via this Web-talk. Just as WW II triggered decades of sci/tech progress, our hope is that this on-going war will also trigger advances that would make our lives better.
Catmul related that his interest in computer graphics has its roots in his art (drawing) interests as a child. He later took a course on computer graphics, which he considered just another course to take. Chuang was also interested in art as a kid. He showed some of his medical and abstract-nature paintings, and followed them with a description of his breaking into his school's computer room to gain access to its PDP minicomputer.
Beginning with the 1970s, technology produced advances in film-making, as clearly visible in Lucas Films' "Star Wars." Subsequent challenges included convincing the predominantly-analog film industry to embrace digital graphics technology. Innovations such as the use of frame buffers helped in subsequent advances. The speakers then proceeded to describe their early experiences with graphics and the "ancient" hardware devices they used to solve seemingly-insurmountable technical challenges by building special-purpose systems, such as the Pixar Image Computer.
Pixar eventually failed as a hardware company and moved into producing commercials and special scenes in films such as "Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast." Silicon Graphics revolutionized the field of computer graphics by offering powerful supercomputers, which were, unfortunately, unaffordable at first.
Catmull related that the special-effects business was a low-margin enterprise, so Pixar concluded that it had to move into making feature films to become commercially viable. This led in the 1990s to producing a 22-minute TV program and, eventually, feature films for Disney. Getting from brief commercials to a 22-minute program and then to a 75-minute feature film was quite challenging in the face of film-industry's brutal deadlines.
One of the latest advances in computer graphics for live-action film-making, now being used by Disney, is to produce the entire background (including all the CG elements) on an LED screen in real time, while live actors perform and are filmed normally in front of it. This reduces production costs substantially.
Relevant free books for ACM members:
Peter Shirley, Fundamentals of Computer Graphics, A. K. Peters, 2nd ed., 2005, 651 pp.
Andy Beane, 3D Animation Essentials, Sybex, 2012, 352 pp.
Rachel Nabors, Animation at Work, A Book Apart, 2017, 80 pp.

2020/04/14 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Magazine cover about coronavirus: Newsweek Wonderful colors of nature in stay-home snacks Magazine cover about coronavirus: Time (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Magazine covers continue to be dominated by the coronavirus pandemic: It never becomes too repetitive to remember and appreciate those who are risking their lives to save us. [Center] Wonderful colors of nature in stay-home snacks.
(2) Trump halts funding to World Health Organization: Even if there are legitimate concerns here, did the WHO funding cut have to occur amid a devastating pandemic which has mobilized the entire world and exposed our interdepedencies? Or is this just one more shiny object to divert attention from Trump's own failings?
(3) Joke of the day: Upon hearing that the COVID-19 pandemic may set back world's economy by 30 years, Iranians celebrated. They are secretly praying for a set-back of 45 years!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Former President Obama strongly endorses Joe Biden for President, while also praising Bernie Sanders.
- Wildfires in Ukraine, near Chernobyl's nuclear plant, are within 2 km of critical nuclear-waste site.
- In the fight against coronavirus, Iranian NGOs try to fill the void left by government inaction.
- Blaming Israel in Iran's downing of a Ukrainian airliner adds salt to the wounds of mourning families.
- The woman who aims to Persianize aerobic workouts. [Video]
- Persian Jeopardy! There are a couple of other segments of this show on YouTube. [Video]
(5) People helping their fellow citizens: NGOs and individual citizens have jumped into action in Iran, US, and elsewhere to fill gaps left by government inaction and/or incompetence. This Iranian woman from the Kurdish city of Kermanshah works on disinfecting her neighborhood, donating her time and paying for supplies.
(6) Final thought for the day: I learned, from an NPR program, why we are experiencing severe shortages of various kinds. Yes, some people are hoarding, but there is an even more important reason. Take toilet paper, for instance. As we stay home, we need more TP at home. Meanwhile, there is an excess of commercial TP of the kinds used at work, hotels, and other public places. The two kinds of TP aren't interchangeable, as they have different sizes and even different producers and distributors. The same differences apply to restaurant vs. supermarket food supplies. It takes a while for producers and distributors to adjust to the new demand profile. But adjustments will be made and shortages, other than those due to dearth of raw material, will disappear.

2020/04/13 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Reposting a few quotes and memes from April 13 of years past Persian poetry: Reposting two Mowlavi/Rumi couplets from April 13 of years past Please consider ordering food directly from restaurants: Grubhub and similar outfits charge high commissions (1) Images of the day: [Left] Reposting a few noteworthy quotes and memes from April 13 of years past. [Center] Persian poetry: Reposting two Mowlavi/Rumi couplets from April 13 of years past. (Another poem) [Right] Please consider ordering food directly from restaurants: This restaurant owner writes that his/her business barely makes any money from orders placed through Grubhub and similar outfits due to the high commissions they charge.
(2) The dysfunctional presidency: Infighting within the US administration and Trump's inattention to warnings from intelligence and public-health experts delayed the US pandemic response by weeks. Trump was warned about the potential for a pandemic early and often, but internal White House divisions, lack of planning, and reliance on his own instincts led to a halting response.
(3) Acid spraying comes to the US: Seems like the Great-Again America will look a lot like Afghanistan or Islamic Republic of Iran, where women and other "undesirables" are killed or scarred for life!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- In a tweetstorm over Easter weekend, Trump congratulated himself repeatedly for his pandemic response.
- Luxembourg court releases $1.6B in blocked Iranian assets: One lawyer defending Iran was American!
- Brazilian study on using chloroquine to treat COVID-19 halted after the death of 11 patients.
- A comprehensive New Yorker profile of infectious-diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
- This year's college grads will be entering the worst job market since the 2008-09 recession.
- Citing lack of in-person attention from on-line instruction, college students file lawsuit for tuition refund.
- Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sang inside and in front of Milan's empty Duomo Cathedral for Easter.
- Nature is not fazed by COVID-19: It seems to even be thriving in the space regained from us humans.
(5) The Sokal hoax: This year, we are commemorating the 25th anniversary of the formal publication by Alan D. Sokal (NYU) of a brilliant parody entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" in the peer-reviewed journal Social Text. Sokal's article maintained that quantum gravity has progressive political implications. When interviewed on the US radio program "All Things Considered," Sokal cited as his inspiration to submit the bogus article the 1994 book Higher Superstition, in which Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt claim that some humanities journals would publish anything as long as it had "the proper leftist thought" and quoted (or was written by) well-known leftist thinkers.

2020/04/12 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Kansas City's World War I Museum Persian poetry: Selected verses from a 'ghazal' on aging, by Shahriar Convincing people to stay home and practice social-distancing would be much easier if the virus were big enough to be seen
What a difference a year makes: Lazy bastard becomes responsible adult Meme: Healthcare workers' slow-moving but determined battle against coronavirus and COVID-19 Justin Trudeau breaks down when talking about the hardships Canadians are enduring (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Kansas City's World War I Museum: April 6 marked the 103rd anniversary of America's entry into "The Great War." [Top center] Persian poetry: Selected verses from a tender 'ghazal' on aging, by Shahriar. [Top right] Convincing people to stay home and practice social-distancing would be much easier if the virus were big enough to be seen. [Bottom left] What a difference a year makes, 52 little weeks! (Adapting the Dinah Washington song title/lyrics) [Bottom center] Meme of the day: Healthcare workers' slow-moving but determined battle against coronavirus and COVID-19. [Bottom right] Justin Trudeau breaks down when talking about the hardships Canadians are enduring. A very weak person, according to you-know-who!
(2) Playing politics with people's lives: The feds seize Colorado's order for 500 ventilators. Now, Trump claims he is sending 100 ventilators to the state at the request of his crony, Senator Cory Gardner, who is facing an uphill reelection battle. Colorado has a Democratic Governor who is being punished by his state getting 400 fewer ventilators than requested, while Trump makes himself and Cornyn look good. Shame!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- OPEC+ agrees to a reduction of ~10 million barrels per day in oil production, beginning in May.
- Nobody is fuller than himself than Donald Trump, believe me! [Video mashup]
- Countries with women leaders seem to have responded better to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Artist at work, drawing spring blossoms and birds (with a live model) on a domed ceiling. [Video]
- Debra Messing's amazing transformation into Lucille Ball, to bring joy to us when we need it most.
(4) Trump claims he knew all along about dangers of coronavirus and that he was acting as a cheerleader when he presented happy-talk: Our country needs a knowledgable and trustworthy leader, not a mindless cheerleader! Even cheerleaders know to stop pretending when their team is down 0-45!
(5) What's the situation with Rudi Giuliani? He has been lurking in the background for months now. There is a real possibility that he'll be indicted soon, yet Trump has not dumped him like so many other inconvenient former allies. Perhaps Rudi wasn't kidding when he said he had insurance against being discarded!
(6) Misogyny personified: A male Iranian psychologist tweets that women must be held tight and brought into focus by men, because they are naturally uncollected and diffused! [Response tweet]

2020/04/11 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of 'Mother Jones': Take-down of Lindsey Graham Cover image of 'The Atlantic': How to destroy a government Cartoon: Pinocchio has difficulties wearing a breathing mask
Cartoon: Captain Trump reassures passengers on the Titanic that lifeboats and vests are on order! Meme: Religion is eerily quiet these days. No worries though. It will return with claims of saving us, once the current pandemic fades away Cover image of Adam Hart-Davis' 'Fibonacci's Rabbits' (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] New magazine covers: I'd be delighted to see Lindsey Graham ousted in November, because he is complicit in Trump's destruction of the US government. [Top right] Why Trump said he won't be wearing a breathing mask! [Bottom left] Cartoon of the day: Captain Trump reassures passengers on the Titanic that lifeboats and vests are on order! [Bottom center] Meme of the day: Religion is eerily quiet these days. No worries though. It will return with claims of saving us, once the current pandemic fades away. [Bottom right] Book introductions: Adam Hart-Davis, Fibonacci's Rabbits, and 49 Other Breakthroughs that Revolutionized Mathematics, Elwin Street Limited, 2019. Hart has also written other books that might be interesting: Schrodingers's Cat, and 49 Other Experiments that Revolutionized Physics and Pavlov's Dog, and 49 Other Experiments that Revolutionized Psychology.
(2) Evidence points to the presence of coronavirus in California since December 2019: There was a peak in February, when COVID-19 deaths began, and it remained undetected because of an unusually-nasty flu season.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Fox News commentators and Wall-Street execs to decide when the US economy should reopen!
- Reposting from April 11, 2011: Remember when our Secretary of Energy was a Nobel Laureate?
- Dr. Anthony Fauci jokes that he wants Brad Pitt to portray him on SNL: It will more likely be Ben Stiller!
- I just read that bell peppers have male & female varieties, discovering right away that the claim is false!
- We watched a Facebook jazz concert by a couple of my daughter's friends this afternoon. [Photo]
(4) More than 12,000 of the 150,000 Android apps studied found to contain backdoors: These included secret access keys, master passwords, and secret commands, which could allow unauthorized access to user accounts, grant hackers access to a device, or allow them to run code on a device with elevated privileges.
(5) Quote of the day: "[T]he business practices of Facebook and Google are closer to those of Enron and Theranos than they are to Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft. ... [Attributing] honorable motives to social media companies like Facebook is both naive and misplaced. It is not so much that the executives of these companies are immoral, but amoral. Considerations of truth, justice, fairness, diversity, rights to privacy, and so on do not appear on their compass cards." ~ Hal Berghel, in a March 2020 IEEE Computer magazine opinion piece entitled "New Perspectives on (Anti)Social Media"

2020/04/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Primitive PhotoShopping to erase women: Iran's state TV replaces singer Elaheh with poet Rahi Moayyeri in a historical photo Borna Izadpanah's photo of his 1850 printed edition of Sa'di's Golestan, produced in Cairo with Nastaliq movable type Meme: If anything distracted Trump from the coronavirus pandemic it was ignorance and playing golf, not impeachment! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Primitive PhotoShopping to erase women continues: Iran's state TV replaces singer Elaheh with poet Rahi Moayyeri in a documentaty about music. Why do they even have to produce such films, if it requires distortion of history? [Center] Borna Izadpanah's photo of his 1850 printed edition of Sa'di's Golestan, produced in Cairo with Nastaliq movable type. [Right] Meme of the day: If anything distracted Trump from the coronavirus pandemic it was ignorance and playing golf, not impeachment!
(2) I don't know what to make of this dance routine: I have never seen this type of dancing before, and someone has replaced the jazz music in the original clip with a Kurdish song, a variation on "Asmar, Asmar."
(3) Spies are hard-pressed in this social-distancing period: They often rely on crowded bars/restaurants and streets to meet with their contacts, or for drop-offs and pick-ups, without being noticed or raising suspicion.
(4) The story of the movement to ratify the Equal-Rights Amendment and the opposition to it led by the conservative Phyllis Schlafly: "Mrs. America," starring the talented, and beautiful, Cate Blanchett, will premiere on April 15, 2020.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Stanford researchers: Californians may have developed a kind of herd immunity to coronavirus last year.
- US Representative Katie Porter tells it like it is and has no time for bullshitters. We are with you, Katie!
- Rain has raised SB Cachuma Lake's water level from the 2016 low of 7% to 15 feet from spilling.
- Good for a smile on this Good Friday: Hidden-camera subjects thought it was their lucky day! [Video]
(6) Multiple-choice math puzzle: A shopper buys a $20 item and presents a $100 bill. The merchant does not have change for $100, so he goes to the neighboring store and gets change for the bill, returning $80 to the shopper and keeping $20. After the shopper leaves, the neighboring merchant comes rushing in to tell the first merchant that the $100 bill is counterfeit, asking for his money back. The original store-owner takes the counterfeit bill and gives the other merchant a genuine $100 bill. How much money did the first merchant lose?
Choose one: (a) $20   (b) $80   (c) $100   (d) $120   (e) $180   (f) $200   (g) None of the above
(7) Two convicted Iranian women: One, who handed flowers in Tehran's Metro to promote women's rights, is languishing in prison, the other, guilty of corruption and price gouging, is living in a gated luxury community.
(8) Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, in a Time magazine interview: Two interesting questions on how FDR and the US industry prepared for World War II, and what we can learn from that monumental mobilization.

2020/04/09 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
My phone screen early this morning: Virtual social interactions seem to be rising to make up for physical social distancing Some of this morning's news stories, in images Cover image of Elizabeth Warren's 'This Fight Is Our Fight' (1) Images of the day: [Left] My phone screen early this morning: Virtual social interactions seem to be rising to make up for physical social distancing. [Center] Some of this morning's news stories: The Editorial Board of Wall Street Journal finally says what I have been pondering all along. Why does the supposedly free press subject itself to lies and humiliation by attending Trump's press briefings? [Right] Cover image of Elizabeth Warren's This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class (see the last item below).
(2) VP Pence's office blocks public health officials from appearing on CNN: Pence was put in charge of the US coronavirus task force to serve his master, not the American people. He is barely allowed to speak himself, and Kushner was put on the panel to keep an eye on him and others on behalf of The Dear Leader. [Image]
(3) Sign this petition to help Persian-speaking authors expand the publication channels available to them: It asks Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing to support the Persian (Farsi) language.
(4) Trump still keeps insisting that nobody saw this pandemic coming: Well, Bill Gates repeatedly warned us about a pandemic potentially being more deadly than war. And here is Barack Obama talking about the need for preparation and building a response infrastructure in 2014. [Tweet]
(5) Book review: Warren, Elizabeth, This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class, unabridged audiobook on 9 CDs, read by the author, Macmillan Audio, 2017.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I read and reviewed Warren's best-selling book, A Fighting Chance, in December 2014. As I wasn't on GoodReads in those days, I recently entered my 4-star review there for archiving and easier access.
Warren is the rare law professor who descended from the ivory tower to become a highly effective policy activist and communicator. Having been elected to the US Senate in 2012, she wasn't on the ballot in 2016, when she sat down with her family to watch the election returns. In the early pages of this book, she describes her horror as she witnessed the outcome.
Also early on, Warren describes her life as a skinny young girl in Oklahoma, when her father needed heart surgery and her mother had to accept a minimum-wage job at Sears to help keep their home and put food on the table. Her disdain for those well-fed and well-dressed lawmakers who take the position that setting a minimum wage is unnecessary and that in a free market, an employer should be able to pay whatever wage the workers accept, comes across clearly and forcefully.
Going to college appeared an inaccessible dream for Warren. Given her family's finances, her aspiration to attend college was dismissed as selfish and unrealistic. The fact that she eventually attended college and became the success that we see now is in good part due to the availability of low-cost, quality higher eduction, all but vanished these days. "A $50-a-semester tuition changed my life," she declares. The corruption of big-money has taken away the fighting chance we used to enjoy, while further widening income and wealth gaps to record levels.
Warren follows the stories of three individuals, one of them mobile-home dweller Gina, a Walmart employee asking for anonymity, because she really needs her job. We learn that Gina was a proud Trump voter, who hoped he will "shake things up." The message seems to be that Democrats should strive to earn the votes of people like Gina. Warren's policy views, once considered fringe and too far to the left, are now more accepted by rank-and-file Democrats, which explains her rise in the race to the White House in 2020.
Warren was a fierce advocate of, and helped establish, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which successfully reduced financial fraud in the US. She is maddened by the revolving door between US government and big business (Goldman Sachs, in particular, which had its fingerprints all over the subprime crisis). Warren criticizes Bill Clinton for aggressively pushing tax cuts and deregulation, asking, "Is this the best that capitalism has to offer?"
I am very impressed with Warren's command of facts and figures. She argues convincingly that trickle-down economics, peddled since the time of Ronald Reagan (and famously dismissed by Reagan's own VP George H. W. Bush as "voodoo economics") has never worked as advertised but, instead, has served to increase inequality. On the negative side, formulating all problems and reactions to them in economic terms is a tad simplistic. Democrats did not lose in 2016 merely because of Trump's economic message, as dishonest as it was, but also because of cultural and religious factors, again laced with dishonesty.
Warren speaks kindly of her former fellow-presidential-candidate Bernie Sanders, but slams Michael Bloomberg for pretending to be fair and balanced by criticizing both Democrats and Republicans even-handedly, without considering the significantly different social and economic implications of the two types of extremism.
Warren's candidacy was very appealing to me, giving her working-class family background and first-hand knowledge of the challenges faced by the vanishing American middle class. Too bad it didn't work out. I recommend Warren's book highly.

2020/04/08 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Passover: Greeting card Passover: Cartoon about virtual gathering Passover: Screenshots of my family's virtual gathering (1) Happy Passover to all those who observe this Jewish holiday! Tomorrow is the first day of Passover, and, as is usual for Jewish holidays, its observance began tonight (over FaceTime and Zoom). New commandments for our time should read "Thou shall not socialize in the flesh during a pandemic" and "Thou shall be grateful to tech for enabling virtual gatherings"!
(2) This is no time for negativity, but US colleges have a difficult road ahead: They are paying all the salaries for now, while also having to refund some educational, residential, and dining fees. Enrollments may not rebound to the pre-coronavirus levels, once current emergency conditions go away. Layoffs are a real possibility come fall term, whose status with regard to in-person or on-line instruction is still unknown. For students, colleges are offering pass/fail grades to ease their immediate worries, but such grades will cost the students in the long run. Disabled students are struggling to adapt to the new normal, where they don't get much, if any, personal attention. Tutoring programs, financial aid, and other key resources for students are also slow to adapt. Graduate students' legitimate claims for salary upgrades are all but forgotten. Overall, it seems that community colleges might survive, but most research universities which do not have deep pockets will be in for long-term challenges, if not outright closure.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bernie Sanders drops out of the presidential race: A loss, if his healthcare and higher-ed ideas are discarded.
- Baghdad's Mutanabbi St. hosts a thriving literary scene, fueled by rare/subversive books and their fans.
- Lateral-thinking puzzle: What is the missing entry in the sequence 16, 06, 68, 88, __, 98?
- Persian poetry: Young contemporary poet Hila Sedighi recites her poem about love and loss.
(4) The all-consuming emotional labor caused by coronavirus—and shouldered by women: "The coronavirus has laid bare many divisions in our society. And, like any serious crisis does, it has elevated the extent to which structural sexism permeates our lives: impacting the gendered division of labor within the home and also shaping what is possible for women, and particularly mothers, in the public sphere."
Sexism isn't the only thing exposed in this crisis, although it, and its domestic-violence product, are very important side effects. Racism, whose cumulative effects over the years has made the African-American population more vulnerable to COVID-19 is on full display too. I was impressed with Dr. Anthony Fauci who addressed the latter issue in a press briefing. Unfortunately, we lack political leaders who can, or are willing to, make the connection. As they say, it's easy to be friendly and generous in good times. Human beings' true natures emerge during difficult times.
(5) Final thought for the day: Why do conservatives oppose conservation and progressives disdain progress produced by exploiting natural resources? [Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century; written from memory (not an exact quote)]

2020/04/07 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
World Health Day: Logo World Health Day: Medical workers Nina Balkan of CMU honored with ACM's 2019 ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award
Photos from my beach walk on a sunny April 6 afternoon, following overnight and morning rain Product of my cooking night: Mixed-green salad Product of my cooking night: Pasta, with meat and vegetables (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] Today is World Health Day: An opportunity to raise awareness of health issues and to appreciate heroic healthcare workers. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and lungs! [Top right] Association for Computing Machinery has named Maria Florina "Nina" Balcan of Carnegie Mellon University the recipient of the 2019 ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award for foundational and breakthrough contributions to minimally-supervised learning. [Bottom left] Photos from my walk on a sunny April 6 afternoon, following overnight and morning rain: Low tide had significantly widened the beach at Goleta's Coal Oil Point. The "No Drone Zone" sign was a first sighting for me. [Bottom center & right] Tonight was my food-prep night: I made pasta, with meat and vegetables, along with mixed-green salad. For some reason, elbow macaroni was the only type left on the otherwise empty pasta shelves at the supermarket!
(2) COVID-19 deaths surpass 10,000 in both Iran and the US: Iran's authorities, much like the Trump administration, called coronavirus a hoax and an enemy plot, losing much valuable time in curtailing it. One reason for Iran having suffered so many deaths, despite its five times smaller population than the US, is religious dogma. Just like certain evangelicals in the US who think that the blood of Jesus will protect them (they have said this in many interviews), some Iranians believe that dead imams, whose shrines they frequent, have the cure for everything. Iran also has significant trade with China, and there was much travel between the two countries, including dozens of Muslim religious students from China studying under the ayatollahs in the city of Qom, the epicenter of the infection.
(3) January 29 memo of Peter Navarro to NSC about risks of coronavirus: Apparently, he put his thoughts in writing to make sure Trump would see the analysis and would act accordingly. Alas! [Page 1 of the memo]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump has a stake in the drug company that makes the anti-malarial drug he promotes at press briefings.
- Stephanie Grisham dismissed: The WH Press Secretary never held a press briefing during her 9 months.
- Apple and 3M to produce many millions of face shields for healthcare workers.
- Persian/Turkish music: Let's take a break from grim news with an oldie song. (Video from 45+ years ago).
(5) New Jersey's information systems are hopelessly outdated: Their four-decades-plus-old mainframes (that's Stone Age in computer technology) are struggling to meet increased demand from unemployment applications and other vital services. Recently, the state has advertised to hire COBOL programmers to help maintain and upgrade the systems. I won't blame you if you don't know what the six-decades-old COBOL is!
(6) Final thought for the day: Questions you cannot answer are far better than answers you cannot question. [Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century; written from memory, not an exact quote]

2020/04/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Free on-line community talk by Elizabeth Rush, 'UCSB Reads' author: April 22, 2020, 4:00 PM Chart: The world economic pie My mom preparing halegh for Passover (1) Images of the day: [Left] Free on-line community talk with the "UCSB Reads" author Elizabeth Rush: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 (Earth Day), 4:00 PM, based on her acclaimed book on the topic of sea-level rise, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. [Center] The world economic pie. [Right] My mom preparing halegh (which the younger members of the family affectionately call "matzo sauce") for Passover.
(2) It's not just tech gurus like Bill Gates; even George W. Bush could see this coming in 2005: "There is no pandemic flu in our country or in the world at this time. But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today."
(3) Those of us who work from home (and urge others to stay home) must not forget that many workers lack the luxury of staying home. Hats off to heroic doctors, nurses, first-responders, and those involved in producing and distributing life's necessities, so that we can stay home.
(4) Tensions in the federal coronaviarus response team: Non-doctors, Donald Trump and Peter Navarro, are pushing a therapy, which infectious-diseases expert Anthony Fauci doesn't endorse, citing insufficient studies/data. Another sour point is over issuing a national stay-at-home recommendation.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Americans may be dying from COVID-19 all around the country, without being included in the official stats.
- Coronavirus has dispelled the myth of equality among students in university classes.
- Iranian doctor making Instagram posts on coronavirus is summoned to court and threatened with murder.
- Airbus blends aircraft body and wings, creating new options for cabin designs. [Photo]
- Latest dieting aid: 3D-printed foods can be designed to trick diners into eating less while still feeling full.
- Persian music: "Cheshm beh Raah" ("Expectant"), from Alireza Eftekhari's "Safar" album. [YouTube mix]
(6) Two Iran-related tweets of the day (in Persian):
- An Iranian MP maintains that Iran's Revolutionary Gaurds Corps did the right thing in shooting down the Ukranian airliner, because it was suspicious and under the control of the United States and Israel!
- Iran's national database of identity registrations has been hacked, exposing the names, national ID-card numbers (similar to SSNs in the US), and phone numbers of the country's entire population.
(7) Humor from Iran: Those planning to send donations to Iran from abroad for fighting this pandemic, please send funds directly to Hezbollah Leader Sheik Nasrallah, to save on the double-transfer bank fees!
(8) Trump has spoken to his friend, Saudi Crown Prince MBS: He happily reports in a tweet that MBS and Putin are set to reduce oil production and thus raise prices. Americans are dying or struggling financially, and The Dear Leader is concerned with oil-company profits rather then cheaper gas for our citizens!

2020/04/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Yesterday's hearty brunch, Photo 2 Yesterday's hearty brunch, Photo 1 Healthy snacks: Cottage cheese and fruit on Triscuit crackers
A new style of painting: Pieces of old, worn-out Persian carpets used as canvas to produce interesting art pieces Cartoon: Marriage ceremony in the age of social-distancing! Eco-efficient smart city designed for Mexico: Italian architect Stefano Boeri has unveiled plans to create a forested smart city near Cancun, Mexico (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] I prepared a hearty brunch yesterday, trying to reconstruct the good old pre-coronavirus days. Your place was empty! [Top right] This morning's healthy snacks: Cottage cheese and fruit on Triscuit crackers. [Bottom left] A new style of painting: Pieces of old, worn-out Persian carpets used as canvas to produce interesting art pieces, some of which are displayed on a street near Isfahan's City Hall, Iran. [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Marriage ceremony in the age of social-distancing! [Bottom right] Eco-efficient smart city designed for Mexico: Italian architect Stefano Boeri has unveiled plans to create a forested smart city near Cancun, Mexico, which will absorb 116,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
(2) Cyber security is no longer a human-scale problem: Writing in Communications of the ACM (April 2020), Gaurav Banga argues that the dizzying array of devices and apps, and the multitude of things that can go wrong on each, make totally-secure systems all but impossible. The points on the 2D device-vulnerability plane exploited in the Equifax breach are depicted in this diagram.
(3) Puzzle: Each of three people knows a number. Is there a way for them (among themselves, without using an external agent) to let all three know the average of the three numbers but not the other two numbers?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trevor Noah's very informative interview with Bill Gates about his warnings on the threat of pandemics.
- How Fox News influences Trump's statements and decisions, leading to deaths and misery.
- News of corruption have gotten lost amid the life-or-death challenges of a health emergency. [Tweet]
- COVID-19 stats in Southern California. [Map, with number of cases and deaths]
- Either six feet apart, or six feet under: The choice is yours!
- Forty Kurdish artists perform "Bella Ciao" to show solidarity with the devastated people of Italy.
- Kurdish music and dance: Omid performs "Shirina Sowza," a song about Norooz/Nowruz. [5-minute video]
(5) Trump is fond of blaming Obama for inadequate supply of breathing masks: It turns out that his HHS Department squashed an Obama-era R&D program for a machine designed to churn out millions of masks during a pandemic. The Dear Leader literally has blood on his hands!
(6) Theme music from Disney's "Elephant": Listen to snippets of the film's theme music, composed by the German-Iranian musician Ramin Djawadi.
(7) Book introduction: The 14-year-old book The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Oxford, 2006), by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, shows us that the dysfunction in US Congress is nothing new. The book is the culmination of decades of work by the authors, beginning in 1969, when fellowships to study the US Congress brought them to Capitol Hill.

2020/04/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
This is me, at the end of stay-at-home and social-distancing period Tweets of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers Newsweek magazine cover: Coronavirus has taken over everything in our lives
My daughter made us a salmon dinner, with Greek lemon-potatoes and brown-buttered carrots Tomb of Hafiz in Shiraz, Iran, after and before coronavirus Vanity Fair ad: Seizing on Trump's attack tweets to boost sales (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Coronavirus humor: This is me, at the end of stay-at-home and social-distancing period, unless my hair stylist adopts this clever method. [Top center] Two Iran-related tweets for my Persian-speaking readers. [Top right] Coronavirus has taken over everything in our lives, including nearly all magazine covers. [Bottom left] My daughter made us a delicious salmon dinner, with Greek lemon-potatoes and brown-buttered carrots. [Bottom center] Tomb of Hafiz in Shiraz, Iran, aka Hafezieh, after and before the arrival of coronavirus. [Bottom right] Here is Vanity Fair seizing on Trump's attack tweets to boost sales!
(2) COVID-19 news: Number of confirmed cases reaches 1 million worldwide, a quarter of them in the US. Some countries are restricting travel from the US. Ten million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits.
(3) Persian poetry: Selected verses from Mowlavi (Rumi): I was dead, then alive | Weeping, then laughing | The power of Love came into me | And I became fierce like a lion | Then tender like the evening star
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump fires intelligence watchdog who forwarded the whistleblower complaint leading to impeachment.
- The mother of all conspiracy theories: COVID-19 is caused by 5G cellular service!
- Sniffer dogs are being trained to detect the smell of coronavirus in carrier, but asymptomatic, individuals.
- Bill withers, of the "Lean on Me" and "Ain't No Sunshine" fame, dead at 81 of heart problems.
- How the food supply chain is adapting to eliminate shortages. [Graphic: Time magazine, April 6/13, 2020]
- Taking breathing masks and other protective gear seriously! [Humorous/uplifting video]
- Obama, on Trump's weakening of fuel-economy standards. [Tweet image]
- Persian music: "Sarnevesht" ("Destiny"), joint work by Anoushirvan Rohani and Homayoun Shajarian.
(5) Government by the corrupt for the corrupt: Not just rewriting history, a la 1984, but changing wordings on Web sites to correspond to erroneous claims by The Dear Leader and his cronies. We will have so much history and records to correct when this band of criminals is gone!
(6) Excesses of the nouveau-riche in Iran: This video, showing a three-story penthouse atop a tower in northern Tehran, appears to be a commercial for a real-estate development company.
(7) Final thought for the day: What does a "Stay Home" order mean for those with no home, be they homeless elderly in Los Angeles or homeless children working on the streets of Tehran to avoid starvation?

2020/04/03 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Selfies takan around the deserted UCSB campus: Batch 1 The spookily empty central plaza next to the UCSB library Selfies takan around the deserted UCSB campus: Batch 2
These days, the deserted UCSB campus is being safeguarded by police patrols 3D-printed fine violins Photo taken at a mystery college campus (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Selfies taken around UCSB campus on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. The spookily empty central plaza next to the library appears behind me in the center photo. [Bottom left] These days, the deserted UCSB campus is being safeguarded by police patrols. [Bottom center] 3D-printing of violins: Will artisans, who spend dozens of hours crafting a fine violin, become dispensable? (Photo credit: IEEE Spectrum, April 2020) [Bottom right] Some among my readers will immediately recognize this college campus. Others may even know the exact spot from which the photo was taken!
(2) Water on Mars has two different sources: This conclusion was reached by University of Arizona's Jessica Barnes, after studying the hydrogen-isotope compositions of 1.5- and 3.9-billion-years-old Mars meteorites.
(3) Trump pivots 180 degrees: After his early assertion that the then 15 US COVID-19 cases will soon go away "like a miracle," Trump reluctantly comes to terms with the fact that tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans will likely die of the disease. He has redefined "beating the disease" as keeping the number of deaths under 100,000. He still insists that his reaction was "perfect" though; like the phone call, you know!
(4) Islamic extremist escapes death: Pakistan overturns the death sentence of British-born Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who killed journalist Daniel Pearl: Three accomplices with life sentences are set free.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The failed federal response to COVID-19: Bidding wars for medical supplies raise prices up to 15-fold.
- Gaps in the availability of medical equipment and supplies are being filled with 3D printing.
- Some 8.5% of 150,000 phone apps studied had backdoors for unauthorized access or sharing of user data.
- As numerous oil platforms reach the end of their useful lives, decomissioning is becoming a hairy problem.
- Fake 16-yolked egg? The odds of a double-yolked egg is 1 in 1000. For a triple-yolker, it is 1 in 25 million.
- Puzzle: The numbers 512, 4913, 5832, and 17,576 have something surprising in common. What is it?
(6) Charitable donations to help the fight against coronavirus: Last year, I recommended Moms Against Poverty for Iran flood-relief donations, after thoroughly researching their impressive activities and alliances on location. The charity is accepting coronavirus-relief donations. You can select US or Iran as the target of your donation.

2020/04/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Combating COVID-19 in the US: Makeshift hospital in New York City's Central Park. Burial place of COVID-19 victims in the city of Langarud, Iran's Caspian-Sea region Cover image for Giuseppe Primiero's 'On the Foundations of Computing' (1) Images of the day: [Left] The US combats COVID-19: Makeshift hospital in New York City's Central Park. [Center] Burial place of COVID-19 victims in the city of Langarud, Iran's Caspian-Sea region (photo credit: Reza Khandan). [Right] Giuseppe Primiero's On the Foundations of Computing (see the last item below).
(2) Yesterday was April Fool's Day: Instead of good-hearted tricks/pranks and hearty laughs, many of our fellow citizens faced vanishing paychecks, just as rent and other monthly bills became due. If you are less-affected by the pandemic and its economic consequences, please donate generously to charities!
(3) Iran does not release or furlough political prisoners amid COVID-19 threats: Reza Khandan's observations on women's section of Evin Prison, where his political-activist wife Nasrin Sotoudeh is serving a long jail term.
(4) Any day now, Anthony Fauci can become "Little Faux-chi" if he continues to contradict Trump on COVID-19 realities. Fauci has been getting death threats from some Trump goons who don't like his regularly correcting The Dear Leader's absurd statements. His security detail has been ramped up.
(5) Journalism and communications professors write open letter to Fox News: Stop causing loss of life by spreading coronavirus misinformation, especially given the large fraction of older people among your viewers. Interestingly, Fox actually suffers financially (losing ad revenues) because of its lying/racist/sexist commentators, which is tantamount to the organization subsidizing Trumpism.
(6) Big-data to the rescue: Fever map of the US, built with data from one million Kinsa Health Internet-connected thermometers, shows that restrictions have reduced the cases of high fever substantially.
(7) Campaigning on the back of a health crisis: Why these coronavirus guidelines were distributed under Trump's name, rather than the country's health organizations or authorities, is being investigated.
(8) Book review: Primiero, Giuseppe, On the Foundations of Computing, Oxford, 2020.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Popular-press headlines, such as "Rise of the Machines" and "How Algorithms Control the World," play on readers' fears (AI vs. humanity), arising from opacity and complexity, and amplified by lack of knowledge. This book attempts to bridge the knowledge gap via a transparent and rigorous exposition of the foundations of computing.
Sandwiched between a 3-page introductory chapter and a 1-page concluding chapter (the latter followed by an extensive 19-page bibliography), Chapters 2-16 are divided between mathematical (6 chs., 110 pp.), engineering (5 chs., 99 pp.), and experimental (4 chs., 56 pp.) foundations of computing. Primiero does an admirable job of revealing the structure of the field in terms of the three main foundations that have guided its birth and evolution. The book strikes an excellent balance between historical, philosophical, and pragmatic aspects of the three foundational domains.
In the mathematical domain, foundational crises in math/logic, the birth of decision problems, computability (including Church's Thesis), the notion of mechanical computation, the nature of algorithms, and computing as a methematical discipline are discussed. This part alone contains 103 numbered definitions.
Discussion of the engineering domain consists of early computer history (beginning with Shannon's circuits), laws of evolution, properties of implemented computations, specification vs. implementation, and computing as an engineering discipline.
Discussion of computing as an experimental discipline in the penultimate chapter is preceded by elements of experimental computing, models and simulations, and formal relations (including identity and dependence, isomorphism, and similarity).
This isn't casual reading of the kind that one would peruse sequentially from cover to cover in short order. Rather, I recommend an initial scan of the chapters, reading Chapters 1 and 17, followed by Chapters 7, 12, and 16, and concluding with as many of the other chapters as the reader feels interested and motivated to pursue. In fact, I am writing this review, having finished the first pass according to the recommendation above. I am looking forward to spending many hours, over time, on detailed examination of these and other chapters.
Chapter 7, "Computing as a Mathematical Discipline" (pp. 81-114): The essence of this chapter, which ends the book's Part I, is the assertion of equivalence between establishing correctness, that is, formal verification, with mechanical computability.
Chapter 12, "Computing as an Engineering Discipline" (pp. 199-213): The essence of this chapter, which ends the book's Part II, is the belief by some, including Richard Hamming, that "the theoretical question whether something can be done is considered less important for the discipline than finding a cost-effective way of building it" (p. 206). An aspect of the ongoing debate is whether computing has what it takes to be a "legitimate" science.
Chapter 16, "Computing as an Experiemental Discipline" (pp. 255-270): The essence of this chapter, which ends the book's Part III, is a discussion of "minimal criteria" (usability and fitness) and "maximal criteria" (robustness and reliability) of artefacts we create for computing.
In the concluding chapter, the author reveals the book to be "a plea for a methodologically rigorous approach to computing and its overall impact, as well as for a critical stand towards its ontological and epistemological principles. Once these are solidly grounded ... ethical, political, and social principles can be formulated in a similarly consistent fashion" (p. 271).

2020/04/01 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Giant US Navy hospital ships have anchored on both coasts to provide relief for inundated hospitals Magazine covers this week: Time Magazine covers this week: Newsweek (1) Images of the day: [Left] Giant US Navy hospital ships have anchored on both coasts to provide relief for inundated hospitals, by taking in their non-COVID-19 patients. [Center & Right] Magazine covers this week focus on feeding the needy and working from home, as we deal with the COVID-19 crisis.
(2) New Yorker cartoon caption selection for the day: "Are you talking about the new normal of an hour ago, or is there a new new normal right now?"
(3) Cuba becomes an icon of the global fight against COVID-19: At the risk of being accused of praising Castro and/or communism, and be beaten on the head like Bernie Sanders, I share this Persian-language video about how Cuban doctors/nurses are helping Italy and several other countries deal with medical emergencies.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Idaho is hit with a magnitude-6.5 earthquake for the first time in 50 years.
- UCLA biodesign student builds a low-cost ventilator from parts he bought at Home Depot.
- Cool tricks and optical illusions for your enjoyment on this April Fool's Day! [Video]
- Satellite images show markedly clearer skies due to reduced emissions during the coronavirus emergency.
- Close to home: A COVID-19 case has been confirmed in Isla Vista, a community adjacent to UCSB campus.
- Santa Barbara and Goleta grocery store hours for seniors.
- Have you ever wondered about who provides the beautiful whistling sounds in spaghetti-Western themes?
(5) The digital divide rears its ugly head: One in five teens report having difficulties doing their homework because of lack of access to computers and the Internet. Access to the Internet has always been considered a basic right. The current work-from-home and study-at-home paradigms make it an even more important commodity. Tech companies should step forward to provide computers and ISPs should consider providing free Internet access and the requisite equipment.
(6) Assisting the poorly equipped hospitals and medical personnel in Iran: I am extremely proud of Tehran University College of Engineering's Class of 1968 (my college buddies) for kicking into action to procure emergency medical equipment and personal protective gear for the heroes fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of dead among Iran's medical teams is mind-boggling.
(7) UCSB's Pollock Theater goes on-line: The Theater is highlighting some of its past screenings and providing access to recorded post-screening discussions.
- "Knock Down the House" (2019) is available on Netflix. [Recorded discussion]
- "Anthropocene: The Human Epoch" (2019) is available on Amazon Prime Video. [Recorded discussion]
(8) Learn about the history of computer graphics and its future development: Two forerunners of the computer graphics industry, Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and 2019 ACM Turing Award Laureate, and Richard Chuang, co-founder of PDI/Dreamworks, will share their personal reflections on the past, present, and future of CG. [Details: Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 9:00-10:00 AM PDT, Registration link]

2020/03/31 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Yesterday afternoon on the UCSB campus, batch 1 of photos Yesterday afternoon on the UCSB campus, batch 2 of photos Yesterday afternoon on the UCSB campus, batch 3 of photos
Yesterday afternoon on the UCSB campus, batch 4 of photos Humor: Indians are ordered to stay home! The calendar section of this week's 'Santa Barbara Independent' (1) Images of the day: [Top row & bottom left] Monday afternoon on UCSB campus (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Humor: Indians are ordered to stay home! [Bottom right] This week's Santa Barbara Independent is quite thin: Its calendar section lists a few webinars and other on-line events on one page.
(2) Yesterday at UCSB: On Mondays, I have a scheduled office hour and two class sessions converted to office hours, to give students a chance for one-on-one discussion and advice-seeking about course material and other academic matters. Between the scheduled times in my office, I walked on campus twice, going to different parts, to see first-hand how the coronavirus pandemic has affected us. Beautiful as ever, and even cleaner than usual (including disinfected restrooms), the campus has become a ghost town. Three of the photos in the fourth batch above show the usually-bustling library plaza at the heart of our campus and the equally-busy bike path and walkway connecting central campus to Isla Vista. It seems that the UCSB campus is one of the safest places to be during this crisis! My plans call for being on campus all afternoon on Mondays and Wednesdays.
(3) A thought from March 2017: I'd take an arugula-loving, fist-bumping, bookish President, who does not take himself too seriously, over an arrogant, emotionless, amoral, ignorant one, who considers himself God-sent savior of the masses, any day!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- We have found the society's real heroes: Let's not forget them once this crisis is over! [Video]
- Of the first 3 doctors who died protecting the UK from COVID-19, two were Sudanese and one was Iraqi.
- ACM has made its Digital Library freely available during the coronavirus emergency (through June 30).
- Wonderful cuisine from the city of Rasht in Iran's Caspian-Sea region. [9-minute video]
- Persian music and dance: Traditional and coronavirus-modern!
- This video appears 3-dimensional, with vivid apples on trees that you feel you can reach out and touch.
(5) History of medicine: Ten centuries ago, Avicenna [~980-1037] (known to Iranians as Abu Ali Sina or Ibn Sina) told people to stay away from mosques and bazaars in order to control the spread of cholera, according to this clip from a 1956 Soviet biopic.
(6) Infomercial during Trump's press briefing: Trump gives the "MyPillow" Guy the podium to announce his planned production of medical face-masks. Whether this is a great act of charity or grabbing of a business opportunity, his infomercial-like announcement, which included lavishing praise on Trump, doesn't pass the smell test. And to top off the absurdity, the guy seems to think that all Americans are Christians! [Image]
(7) Final thought for the day: Health-care activist Ady Barkan sees COVID-19 as yet another reason to pass Medicare-for-All: "ALS made me really see what a moral abomination our health care system is."

2020/03/30 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the book 'A Warning,' by Anonymous Viruses have no nationality or religion: Jewish and Muslim paramedics, working side by side People are dying and our insecure President rants about ratings for his news briefings, aka campaign rallies! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Anonymous, on Trump's shortcomings and dysfunction in the White House (see the last item below). [Center] Viruses have no nationality or religion: Respect nature and be kind to your fellow human-beings. [Right] People are dying and our insecure President rants about ratings for his news briefings!
(2) Coronavirus in Iran: President Rouhani asserts that all is well in the fight against coronavirus in Iran and that America and Europe are in dire straits. Meanwhile, it's business as usual in waging war around the Middle East and in handing down long prison terms to political activists in Iran's kangaroo courts. [Persian tweets]
(3) Adios to the all-too-brief spring break, which I spent in my study, with occasional visits to its adjacent courtyard! The coming first week of the spring quarter will be hectic, with adaptation to exclusively on-line classes and working through all the uncertainties and questions adding to normal first-week challenges. I'll keep my face-to-face contact with students via in-person office hours. By mid-April, I will settle into a routine and will start the countdown to summer!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US COVID-19 deaths surpass 2000: Anthony Fauci warns 100 times more may die before it's all over.
- Former Defense Chief, centerist Benny Gantz, to form a coalition government in Israel. [Time magazine]
- Israeli historian/author Yuval Noah Harari interviewed on BBC Persian by Rana Rahimpour. [In English]
- Iran denies that pilgrims still flock to the country's religious shrines, but this video suggests otherwise.
(5) Book review: Anonymous (a senior Trump admiminstration official), A Warning, unabridged MP3 audiobook read by Robert Fass, Twelve, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
I have mixed feelings about this book, which is a follow-up to the September 2018 anonymous op-ed "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration," published by New York Times in September 2018.
On the one hand, much of what Anonymous writes makes sense and is consistent with numerous other accounts of Trump's presidency and his dysfunctional White House. The book provides a comprehensive catalogue of laws Trump has violated and immoral/corrupt acts he has committed. The author describes himself/herself as part of the "Steady State" (countering Trump's "Deep State" label), or the so-called "adults in the room."
On the other hand, Anonymous isn't a never-Trumper and professes to like most of the policies that Trump promotes, although, over the years, Trump has promoted every possible policy and its opposite. S/he accuses others, in the cabinet and Congress, of cowardice in facing up to Trump, yet strings together excuses for not joining a growing number of other adults in the room in leaving a White House that has become a den of incompetent yes-men and yes-women; enablers who go out of their way to justify any stupid and obviously-wrong pronouncement by the Egotist-in-Chief.
While a year and a half into Trump's presidency, anonymous criticism of his actions and exposure of his insanity might have been helpful, near the end of his first term, and with the prospects of his re-election looming, it is doubtful that anonymous resistance is the way to go. Anonymous justifies his/her actions by pointing to Alexander Hamilton's use of a pseudonym for the Federalist Papers. But it is not likely that Anonymous has a stature like Hamilton's, whose words would have carried much more weight had he written under his own name.
Still, there is no reason to doubt the veracity of the author's characterization of Trump as constantly stumbling, slurring, confused, paranoid, irritable, and having trouble synthesizing information. The reader is left to wonder, though, whether the accuracy of the information presented has been compromised, and facts fuzzified, by the need to remain anonymous.
Among the more interesting passages in the book is where the author cites negative comments certain politicians made about Trump, before he won the presidency and after they joined his administration or became his staunch allies in Congress. Every single Trump apologist and derriere-kisser had made nasty remarks about him and about his lack of qualifications and temperament for presidency, before and/or after his election.

2020/03/29 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Perhaps this beautifully-rendered calligraphic message convinces you to stay home! Printing in Persian: Two figures from an article by Borna Izadpanah Positivity and negativity in two consecutive tweets: Asian-American feminists and Donald Trump (1) Images of the day: [Left] Perhaps this beautifully-rendered calligraphic message convinces you to stay home! [Center] Printing in Persian (see the last item below). [Right] Positivity and negativity in two consecutive tweets: While Asian-American feminists endeavor to issue an entertaining and informative newsletter for the age of coronavirus, our supposedly very-busy President is spreading disinformation and picking fights with governors who dare criticize his handling of the crisis.
(2) Quote of the day: "We ascribe beauty to that which is simple; which has no superfluous parts; which exactly answers its end; which stands related to all things; which is the mean of many extremes." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist (1803-1882)
(3) Universities may face challenges in student retention: After the on-line instruction period due to the coronavirus epidemic is over, many students may not return to campuses, particularly given the reduced quality of instruction as well as faculty apathy and tech-aversion in the interim period.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Can the US government be charged with criminal negligence in its handling of the coronavirus epidemic?
- Adult dependents and many students are left out of the coronavirus economic stimulation package.
- Coping with social isolation: UNICEF Exec. Dir. Henrietta H. Fore shares ideas from her day 4 at home.
- Traditional Persian music, with a modern big-orchestra twist. [7-minute video]
- Beautiful Iranian dances: Azeri and Kurdish.
- Humorous country song: "I'm My Own Grandpa" (with a graphical explanation).
(5) How the coronavirus pandemic will end: "A global pandemic of this scale was inevitable. In recent years, hundreds of health experts have written books, white papers, and op-eds warning of the possibility. Bill Gates has been telling anyone who would listen, including the 18 million viewers of his TED Talk. In 2018, I wrote a story for The Atlantic arguing that America was not ready for the pandemic that would eventually come. In October, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security war-gamed what might happen if a new coronavirus swept the globe. And then one did. Hypotheticals became reality. 'What if?' became 'Now what?'" [Article]
(6) Historical nuggets about the Persian script and its printing (figures above): Three dots were added to existing non-dotted Arabic letters to form the Persian letters "pe," "che," "zhe," and "gaaf." The current form of the letter "gaaf" is different from this early European practice.
In this example of typesetting the Nastaliq Persian script, composition of kernel characters and dots forming the Persian word "shahrak" is shown. Printing in Nastaliq script requires many multi-letter combinations to be produced for results with acceptable aesthetic quality.
[Source: Figs. 4 & 25 in Borna Izadpanah's "Early Persian Printing and Typefounding in Europe," J. Printing Historical Society, New Series, No. 29, Winter 2018, pp. 87-123]

2020/03/28 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Persian word puzzle: Persian proverbs/sayings and poem half-verses in emoji Cover image of the book 'Call Sign Chaos,' by Jim Mattis and Bing West Word puzzle: Movie titles in emoji (1) Images of the day: [Left] Persian word puzzle: Persian proverbs/sayings and poem half-verses in emoji. [Center] Call Sign Chaos (see the last item below). [Right] Word puzzle: Movie titles in emoji.
(2) Update by Dr. Siavash Kurdistani from UCLA Medical Center, late last night: "We have tested a total of 2,503 patients since March 9. Of those, 193 tested positive. We currently have 27 patients hospitalized who have tested positive, including 8 who are ventilated. Test results are pending for 18 hospitalized patients. Six of our health care workers have tested positive for COVID-19 because they were exposed to a colleague in the workplace who tested positive."
(3) Trump's character flaws make him unsuitable for dealing with a crisis of this magnitude: He is trapped in a deadly situation from which he cannot escape by lying or changing the subject to Clinton's e-mails.
(4) Coronavirus-related hacking: Computer-security experts warn that a hack of Linksys and D-Link routers for homes and small offices is redirecting users to malicious sites that pose as COVID-19 info resources.
(5) Trump wants governors to thank him for the health-care supplies the federal govenment is providing to states, as if they are procured with his personal funds. Now, there are reports that he wants his signature to be on the checks sent to families as part of the stimulus bill he just signed!
(6) Book review: Mattis, Jim and Bing West, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Danny Campbell, Random House Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
James (Jim) Norman Mattis makes it clear at the outset that he refrains from commenting on the actions of a sitting president. So, if you want to learn about what went on in the White House between Mattis and Trump that led to his eventual resignation in February 2019, this book isn't for you.
True to form for a lifelong military man, the prose is very dry: Bing West's co-writing and Danny Campbell's reading can't help liven the drudgery of trying to learn from detailed description of military deployments confronting insurgencies. This is why I gave the book 4 stars; were I rating the content, rather than the overall book, the rating would have been higher.
CHAOS (Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion) was the call name given Mattis by his underlings. Other than brief references to growing up in the west and going to jail for underage drinking, Mattis does not reveal much personal information. The book is primarily about Mattis the military man or "Mad Dog," rising from a US Marine recruit to 4-star general, and less about Mattis the never-married private man, "The Warrior Monk."
Even though Mattis doesn't comment on Trump directly, the occasional barbs are there. Mattis believes that any leader, or any person for that matter, must learn from books: "If you haven't read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate." Mattis reads a lot himself, particularly about past military leaders and military campaigns, ideas and quotations from which appear throughout the book. He also sings the praises of the US Constitution and the need to follow processes and precedents.
Mattis discusses three types of leadership: Direct, executive, and strategic. A rather old-fashioned man, Mattis does not seem to have learned to use gender-neural language, as if women do not lead!
Direct leadership, where the leader is in close contact with his charges (a few dozens at most) and often knows them better than family members, requires leading with compassion and personal examples. In this part, Mattis draws on his own experiences leading US Marines into battle.
Executive leadership requires clear communication to ensure that the leader's intent is well-understood by all those carrying out the commands, such that they can make independent, local decisions consistent with the leader's intent. The leader should not spell out step-by-step actions but rather leave the details to those carrying out the commands in the field. Examples in this part come mostly from the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Strategic leadership requires a military leader to interface with political leaders, reconciling decisions that can cost lives with human aspirations and the attendant ambiguities. Imprudent decisions at this level can have catastrophic consequences. Examples in this part relate to Mattis's CentCom and other command posts and, later, Secretary of Defense.
Mattis provides much detail about his military campaigns in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There is a great deal of information about the interaction between military generals and civilian leadership, shedding light, in particular, on all the misguided decisions in Iraq that produced and then strengthened the insurgency, leading eventually to the rise of ISIS.
Learning that the civilian leadership sitting in Washington has no clue about the complexities of war and the sacrifices made by military leaders and "the grunts," under difficult and sometimes inhumane conditions, was quite valuable for me.

2020/03/27 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Not every American is hoarding: A kind soul's offer to his/her neighbors The decades-long fonts war: The letter 'm' in Times New Roman font The decades-long fonts war: Irregularities from rasterization
Humor: He thought she wanted an 18-carrot necklace! Social-distancing requirements have closed movie theaters Social distancing: This park bench has been upended to prevent people from sitting on it (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Not every American is hoarding: A kind soul's offer to his/her neighbors. [Top center & right] The decades-long fonts war (see the next item below). [Bottom left] He thought she wanted an 18-carrot necklace! [Bottom center & right] Social-distancing requirements have closed movie theaters and upended park benches at a Goleta housing complex.
(2) Article on the history of computer fonts: A just-published article by Charles Bigelow, "The Font Wars" (IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 42, No. 1, January-March 2020; Part 1, pp. 7-24; Part 2, pp. 25-40), reviews a decades-long competition in the computer industry for dominance in font technology, viewed as necessary for success and market dominance in personal computing. These two figures from the article show the bitmap of the letter "m" in Times New Roman font and irregularities from rasterization that needed to be hand-edited to improve regularity and alignment.
(3) UCSB ECE 252B, spring 2020: I have recorded the first 2 of ~20 lectures to cover the first week of classes for my graduate course on computer arithmetic. Here is the course Web page, in case you'd be interested to learn more about the class or to follow it.
- Lecture 1, Redundant Number Representation: 81-minute video
- Lecture 2, Residue Number Systems: 74-minute video
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Close to home: There are now 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara and 61 in Ventura County.
- Emergency food distribution centers on California's Central Coast (Carpinteria to Santa Maria). [List]
- Classical music: Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Kathryn Stott (piano) perform "The Swan" (Camille Saint-Saens).
- My nature walk around Goleta's Devereux Slough, on a sunny and windy Thursday afternoon. [Photos]
- After only a few weeks of reduced human activity on Earth, nature has begun to reclaim the space!
(5) Comic news that is dead-serious: It is mind-boggling that a comedic-journalist, Trevor Noah, provides the most level-headed and informative interview with infectious-diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.
(6) Lack of self control intensifies during a crisis: There are disturbing reports about a sharp rise in violence against women at home (euphemistically called "domestic violence" to hide the gender imbalance), as families are confined to home, perhaps in cramped quarters. In the West, people are raised to mind their own business and not be nosy. Please do be nosy at this critical time. If you see/hear violence against women, report it to authorities. You may just save a life!
(7) Trump's media allies continue to fall in disgrace: Fox ousts Trish Regan after her rant about critical reactions to Trump's handling of the coronavirus epidemic being "impeachment all over again"!

2020/03/26 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump's daily press briefings have become substitutes for his campaign rallies Cartoon: Science, not religion, will save us from this pandemic Satellite photo of North America
Chart: Most countries are on the same coronavirus trajectory, with the number of confirmed cases doubling every 2-3 days Table: Courses that should incorporate discussion of ethical practices in computing Hidden misogyny: Self-quarantined Angela Merkel and Queen Elizabeth II doing house chores Cartoon depicting Schrodinger's cat (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Trump's press briefings have become substitutes for his campaign rallies: News outlets are considering whether to give him prime-time live coverage to spread lies and misinformation. [Top center] Coronavirus cartoon: Science, not religion, will save us from this pandemic. [Top right] Satellite photo of North America: Our planet looks peaceful from above, even as a pandemic ravages us humans. [Middle] Teaching about ethical practices in computing is more important than ever: Here is a partial list of computer science and engineering courses which are ripe for discussing ethical challenges. (Table from an editorial by Cherri M. Pancake, Communications of the ACM, April 2020) [Bottom left] Most countries are on the same coronavirus trajectory, with the number of confirmed cases doubling every 2-3 days: The US is one of the worst in the effectiveness of government response. Hong Kong and Singapore limited the spread. Japan and South Korea slowed it. [Bottom center] Misogyny, disguised and presented as humor (see the next item below). [Bottom right] A depiction of the quantum-physics "hoax," as Donald Trump would call it!
(2) Hidden misogyny: The image above of two of the most-powerful women in the world in self-quarantine appears funny at first, but that is because we are all unaware of our decades of social programming. Here is another example, disguised as a joke. Woman talking to a friend: "I wasn't expecting so much shared life when I agreed to marry him. I was told that he would leave every morning and return in the evening."
(3) Quote: "There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the top. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong." ~ Hindu proverb
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Not as bad as people dying, but still sad: Holland destroys 80% of its flower production for lack of buyers.
- Computers at healthcare facilities inundated by COVID-19 patients become targets of cyber-criminals.
- Algorithms take charge of policing disinformation, as Facebook sends its moderators home on paid leave.
- Coronavirus humor: Wear a face mask, even when you are alone at home. It will help you avoid over-eating!
(5) Dumb, paranoid leaders: Iranian health official contradicts Supreme Leader Khamenei, who had advanced the conspiracy theory that a special strain of coronavirus was made by the US to cause maximum damage in Iran! Donald Trump is also frequently contradicted or corrected by US health experts.
(6) When it comes to spending money we don't have, bipartisanship takes hold: By a vote of 96-0, Senators approve $2 trillion disaster-aid bill to boost the US economy and help those who are suffering from COVID-19 or its economic impact.
(7) Atena Daemi, an Iranian anti-death-penalty activist will mark her birthday in prison tomorrow, for the fifth consecutive year. Happy 32nd birthday! Shame on the Islamic Republic authorities who can't tolerate dissent, even peaceful activism on behalf of a humanitarian cause. [Tweets]

2020/03/25 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Hiking on Santa Barbara's beautiful Jesusita Trail: Photo 2 Hiking on Santa Barbara's beautiful Jesusita Trail: Batch 1 of photos Hiking on Santa Barbara's beautiful Jesusita Trail: Photo 3
Eight construction projects that used a lot of concrete: Batch 1 Eight construction projects that used a lot of concrete: Batch 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top] My daughter and I hiked on Santa Barbara's beautiful Jesusita Trail, an easy hike that was made challenging by a muddy path. [Bottom] Eight construction projects that used a lot of concrete: 0.1-65.5 million metric tons (source: IEEE Spectrum, March 2020). Note: "The Pentagon" image is mislabeled.
(2) Happy 10th birthday, Obamacare! The Affordable Care Act has survived numerous challenges from the Republicans, thanks in part to its defense by Democratic Attorneys General Association.
(3) World's largest networked-computer is helping in our fight against coronavirus: Folding@Home, a distributed system offering 470 petflops of peak performance in the exhaustive search to find possible cures for COVID-19, is more powerful than world's top seven supercomputers combined. The #1 supercomputer on the Top-500 list has also been enlisted to help in the search.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Yemen set to execute 24 Baha'is, including a child, on charges of spying for Israel.
- Plea from medical professionals, fighting the coronavirus pandemic, that we help them by staying home.
- Stores are facilitating proper social-distancing through the use of floor markers in check-out lines.
- Historians: In 2020, the US had a president so full of **it that the whole country ran out of toilet paper!
- Italy in quarantine: Balcony sax performance of "Bella Ciao" for neighbors across the street.
- Will we ever feel such joys again? Concert pianist disguised as janitor performs at a shopping mall.
(5) A virus speaks to humans: A virus warns humans that they were on the path of destroying their planet with excesses, before the current coronavirus pandemic woke them up. Did it, really, or will we go back to our old ways, once the crisis is over? [Video in Italian, with subtitles in English and in Persian]
(6) Computing helps endangered and extinct languages: There are currently 7000 known languages in the world, 2500 of which are endangered (children no longer learn to speak them). Over the past 70 years, 230 languages have gone extinct (there are no speakers left). Automatic language translation via machine-learning has been making enormous progress in recent years. The results are particularly impressive in translating between English and French, because of the vast collection of past translations, but improvements are being made for other language pairs. Now, researchers are trying to extend these methods to translating from extinct languages. [Communications of the ACM, issue of April 2020]

2020/03/24 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: View the days of isolation like 'Groundhog Day' (the movie) Former Iranian ambassador to Venezuela Ahmad Sobhani has disowned his son Sasha, professing failure in raising him properly! Cover image for Andrea Berstein's 'American Oligarchs' (1) Images of the day: [Left] My advice. [Center] This is the son of an Islamic Republic official: Former Iranian ambassador to Venezuela Ahmad Sobhani has disowned his son Sasha Sobhani, professing failure in raising him properly! [Right] Cover image for Andrea Berstein's American Oligarchs (see the last item below).
(2) UCSB ECE 1B, spring 2020: I have recorded the first of ten hour-long weekly lectures for my freshman-seminar class, Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering. Here is the course's Web page, in case you'd be interested to learn more about the class or to follow it. [Lecture 1: 65-minute video]
(3) The story of a legendary $20M Buenos Ayres bank heist in 2006 that puts Hollywood fiction to shame: The perpetrators created an ordinary bank robbery scene, with hostages, to distract the police and buy time, as they cleaned out safe-deposit boxes in the basement. They got away and thought they had pulled the perfect heist, but a lovers' dispute over the haul, and an affair, unraveled the plot.
(4) Two cancelled events: Among casualties of universities moving to on-line instruction for spring 2020 and restrictions on gatherings and travel are the following two events in UCLA's Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran:
- 4/26, UCI's Dr. Roxanne Varzi, "Tehran Tourist" screening/discussion, an example of guerilla film-making
- 5/18, UNC's Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi, "Embodiment, Power, and Politics in Farahbakhsh's 'Zendegi-ye Khosusi'"
(5) Borna Izadpanah's tweet about Mirza Malkom Khan's new Persian alphabet of the 1880s, known as "Khotout-e Adamiyyat" or "Alefba-ye Malkomi," and the books he published using it.
(6) Book review: Bernstein, Andrea, American Oligarchs: The Kushners, the Trumps, and the Marriage of Money and Power, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2020.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The Trumps and the Kushners are a match made in Hell! Both families were corrupted by money and in turn corrupted everything around them, including lawyers, cops, and politicians. Veteran investigative reporter Andrea Bernstein digs up the dirt on both families, which had constant brush-ins with law enforcement.
The Kushners are the lesser-known of the two families, so there is more new material about them than about the Trumps. Charles Kushner, Jared's father, did time in federal prison for using a prostitute and recording a sex tape to frame his brother-in-law over business disputes. The Kushner family broke multiple laws, in Europe and the US, in trying to make it to America, including using false names and faking their country of origin. Jared's paternal grandfather, who morphed from Yossel Berkowitz into Joseph Kushner, passed himself off as the son of his father-in-law, because immigration officials treated sons more favorably than sons-in-law. It is interesting that with all this in Trumps' and Kushners' background, Trump had the nerve to mock comedian Jon Stewart for ditching the name "Jonathan Leibowitz"!
Both Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump came very close to being indicted for scams involving Trump's Soho Hotel, and Donald Trump himself escaped indictments by settling dozens of cases out of court. Bernstein describes failed project after failed project that bankrupted many investors, while the Trumps, who used licensing agreements, rather than putting up cash, emerged making millions. In many cases, the Trumps misrepresented their association with the projects, falsified the buildings' sales/occupancy levels, and used other misleading data to lure investors.
Criminal families attract other criminal families. A case in point is Rudy Giuliani, who may be in serious legal trouble now, given the indictment of two of his close associates, and whose father served time in Sing Sing correctional facility for armed robbery. Both families, the Trumps and the Kushners, associated with criminals, some of whom are now in prison or are under investigation. Jared Kushner has obtained questionable loans, abusing his position as a top advisor to President Trump. Bernstein's narrative is peppered with characters from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Persian Gulf states, and other corrupt foreign countries, as well as a few mobsters.
Bernstein's book has significant overlaps with other recent books about the Trump family. For example, both the 2016 presidential campaign and the dysfunction within the Trump White House are given broad coverage, topics that are included in dozens of other books. Nevertheless, I found American Oligarchs absorbing and informative. Sometimes a fresh perspective or narrative on an old incident can be enlightening. I recommend Bernstein's book highly, particularly in this election year.

2020/03/23 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of Time magazine for the issue of March 23, 2020 Meme: We have too many nukes and not enough ventilators The quantum-dot image sensor will revolutionize digital imaging
English tweet: Face of someone who has been wearing protective gear all day Persian tweets: Criticizing Khamenei's incompetence and mad pronouncements The Ten Commandments, updated for the age of coronavirus (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Cover of Time magazine, issue of March 23, 2020. [Top center] We have too many nukes and not enough ventilators. [Top right] The quantum-dot image sensor will revolutionize digital imaging—and it could come to smartphone cameras within 5 years (source: IEEE Spectrum, March 2020). [Bottom row] Topical tweets about immense sacrifices from our doctors and nurses, criticism of Ayatollah Khamenei who, like Trump, is blaming everyone but himself or his government's policies for the coronavirus pandemic, and the Ten Commandments, updated for the age of coronavirus.
(2) The sick mind of Iran's incompetent Supreme Leader: The US created this new disease to reduce Iran's population. Now, in the guise of medical assistance, the West wants to bring in drugs that make the virus a permanent presence in Iran. [Not an exact quote, but an accurate translation of his words]
(3) From the US CDC Web site: The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days. [Explanation in Persian]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- USA had a CDC expert in China to provide advance warning of epidemics: The position was cut in 2019.
- Japan considers postponing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after several countries withdraw from participation.
- Humor: On the perils of working from home in the age of social-distancing! [Video]
- Neil Diamond modifies the lyrics to his song "Sweet Caroline": Hands ... washing hands ... ! [Tweet]
- Students recreate their choir performance virtually, after their concert is cancelled. Wonderful!
- Iranian music: Medley of highly-popular regional/folk songs, played on santoor. [3-minute video]
(5) Donald Trump tweet: I watch and listen to the Fake News, CNN, MSDNC, ABC, NBC, CBS, some of FOX (desperately & foolishly pleading to be politically correct), the @nytimes, & the @washingtonpost, and all I see is hatred of me at any cost. Don't they understand that they are destroying themselves?
Me: Well, if you see so many going the wrong way, start thinking that maybe you are the wrong-way driver!
(6) Do not hog Internet bandwidth: Many of our fellow citizens are working at home and there are reports of significant Internet slowdown in parts of the country (there have been multiple complaints from my neighbors living in the same faculty housing complex, where suddenly dozens of us are placing extra load on the network). Be mindful of bandwidth limitations when streaming movies or TV shows during working hours.

2020/03/22 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos I took early this afternoon, during my nature walk before the onset of rain: Batch 1 Photos I took early this afternoon, during my nature walk before the onset of rain: Batch 3 Photos I took early this afternoon, during my nature walk before the onset of rain: Batch 2
In the age of coronavirus and social distancing: Classic art In the age of coronavirus and social distancing: Park bench (1) Images of the day: [Top] Photos I took early this afternoon, during my nature walk before the onset of rain. [Bottom] In the age of coronavirus and social distancing: Classic art, and park bench.
(2) South Korea and the United States had their first coronavirus case on the same day: South Korea took it seriously and is beating it. The US called it a hoax and ignored it for weeks.
(3) Why we aren't over-reacting: Comparing the spread of coronavirus infections in the United States (red) and Italy (gray) shows that things are likely to get much worse for us in the days ahead. [Chart]
(4) I think young people are genuinely spooked by our behavior: After hearing from us repeatedly to get off their butts and do something useful for society, they don't know what to make of the advice to sit on the couch and do nothing, in order to save humanity.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Compilation of Trump supporters talking about race, LGBTQ rights, and possibility of a Trump dynasty.
- Humor (in Persian): Remeber that President Rouhani has your home address and the key. [Image]
- Persian music: Shardad Rohani plays and conducts his composition "Dance of Spring." [4-minute video]
- Quote: "The search for human freedom can never be complete without freedom for women." ~ Betty Ford
(6) Be alert for fraud in these difficult times: As in other disasters and emergencies, fraudsters have sprung into action to take advantage of people's empathy and fears. Fraudulent charities, purported preventive and therapeutic treatments, cries for help by people showing up at your door (with an accomplice lurking behind), tax-refund assistance, and just plain robberies are things to watch for.
(7) This mullah says that Norooz/Nowruz is a Zoroastrian festival and celebrating it would be un-Islamic: "What's so special about grass regrowing? Cows and donkeys should celebrate, not people"! Every time these dotards attack Iranian traditions, people become more resolute in observing them. Meanwhile, another mullah, mask-less and not wearing any protective gear, is seen in other news reports walking among COVID-19 patients in a hospital to bless them with a perfume "from the prophet." All mullahs are like this, although some do manage to hide their hatred of values and traditions from pre-Islamic Iran.
(8) Humor from Iran: With all the disasters that have descended upon us lately, I am totally confused. Today, there was an earthquake and, instead of jumping out of the house, I began washing my hands. [Persian]
(8) Coronavirus joke from Iran: My grandpa had symptoms of coronavirus, so we took him to the hospital. He has been dancing with the nurses for three hours now. When we tell him that if he feels okay, we should go home, he tells us to shut up: "You idiots, can't you see that I'm dying?"

2020/03/21 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Our heroes nowadays, cartoon 2 Our heroes nowadays, cartoon 1 Shopping report: Garlic is still in short supply everywhere (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] These are our heroes nowadays: They have always been, but we are now coming to recognize them as heroic. [Right] Shopping report: Garlic is still in short supply everywhere. Sprouts Farmers Market was business-as-usual otherwise. European Market, a local joint which specializes in East European and some Middle Eastern foods, was impressively well-stocked.
(2) Highest Math Prize: The 2020 Abel is shared by Hillel Furstenberg, 84, of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, and Grigory Margulis, 74, of Yale University, two trailblazing retired professors of probability and dynamics.
(3) Words matter: The following word pairs have the same number of letters, but that's the only thing they have in common. Be mindful of your words!
Love/Hate. Friends/Enemies. Positive/Negative. Right/Wrong. Heal/Hurt. Happy/Angry. Raise/Lower.
(4) The simulation hypothesis: Is everything we do or happens to us, including the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, part of a grand simulation? Fasten your seatbelts and listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson explain why this isn't as likely to be the case as some argue.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- COVID-19 Response Team of London's Imperial College issues report on non-pharmaceutical interventions.
- Life is suspended in Iran: National Geographic article on how Iran is dealing with the coronavirus epidemic.
- Breaking: Fox News has asked its commentators to lie from home!
- Once this video clip goes viral, Dr. Anthony Fauci will be toast: He must be a spy planted be the Democrats!
- One more attempt at arguing that the Haji Firooz concept is racist and quite offensive. [2014 post]
- If you think you need to use a facial mask, here is an on-line source (courtesy of a neighbor of mine).
(6) Quote of the day: "There's a mythology that if you want to change the world, you have to be sainted like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela or Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Ordinary people with lives that go up and down and around in circles can still contribute to change." ~ Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams
(7) The tech prophet: Bill Gates warned us in his 2015 TED talk that we'll likely lose millions of people to microbes, not to missiles. Spending loads of money on military instead of public health is thus misguided.
(8) Okay, I am officially overwhelmed: My in-box is deluged with daily coronavirus-related e-mails, most of them long ones, from UC President, our Chancellor, multiple Vice-Chancellors, various instructional offices offering help with on-line classes, my department chair, and a host of other campus uits announcing their modified schedules. And this is just from within UCSB. Add to these messages, e-mails from organizations with which I interact and alerts from news services to which I subscribe, and you'll understand the problem. As soon as I read and deal with a batch of e-mails, the in-box grows even larger with newly arriving messages!

2020/03/20 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Norooz/Nowruz poem, greeting, and flowers 'Where's Waldo' puzzles vastly simplified in the age of social distancing! Flowers for Norooz/Nowruz and the Iranian new year
Lily Weng's Zoom lecture at UCSB Iran releases or furloughs some prisoners, but many political prisoners remain behind bars On-line MATLAB course for IEEE Central Coast Section (1) Images of the day: [Top left & right] Happy Norooz/Nowruz and Iranian new year (see the next item below). [Top center] "Where's Waldo" puzzles vastly simplified in the age of social distancing! [Bottom left] Lily Weng's Zoom lecture at UCSB (see next-to-last item below). [Bottom center] Iran frees or furloughs some prisoners due to the spread of coronavirus: But while embezzlers and others imprisoned for corruption are now roaming free, many political prisoners, women in particular, remain behind bars. [Bottom right] On-line MATLAB course for IEEE Central Coast Section (see the last item below).
(2) Spring is upon us (and so is the nasty coronavirus): Nature's renewal and human health concerns are battling for our attention. As we passed the moment of Spring Equinox (Persian "Saal Tahveel"), last night at 8:50:00 PM California time (Friday, March 20, 2020, 7:20:00 AM Iran time), I hoped we can turn the lessons of this global pandemic into positive changes in our lifestyles: consuming less and loving more; mistrusting less and believing more; letting the sun shine on our faces, as we go out and help those who are less fortunate. Wishing you an enlightening Norooz/Nowruz, alongside your loved ones, and a healthy and joyous new year!
Here's an eloquent Persian greeting for Norooz/Nowruz and the Iranian new year: May spring bring renewal and joy, not only to humans, but to all creatures and to the entire planet we call home.
And here's a typical Iranian's wish for the new year: Looking forward to a year with no coronavirus and no Islamic Republic! [My message above in Persian]
(3) Important news of the day related to the coronavirus epidemic: Putting these one-dozen news headlines in one place reveals the enormous global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
- After classified coronavirus briefing, GOP Senators dumped stocks
- Governor Newsome issues California-wide "Stay at Home" order
- Multiple American auto factories are shutting down until April
- Employee furloughs begin in US aviation and other industries
- Trump assumes "war powers" but decides against using them
- Adjunct faculty and foreign students more affected by college closures
- Face-to-face research activity also comes to a halt at college campuses
- Electricity demand in the US plummets, as Internet usage surges
- EU asks residents to stream videos in standard-definition, not HD
- French President Macron suspends rent, taxes, and utility bills
- Woman marks 100th birthday in isolation; family cheers from outside
- Publishers/repositories, like Cambridge/JSTOR, provide free e-access
(4) "Evaluating Robustness of Neural Networks": This was the title of a March 18, 2020, Zoom (remote) technical talk by Tsui-Wei Lily Weng (MIT), a faculty candidate for UCSB's Computer Engineering Program.
Robustness of neural networks to adversarial examples (imperciptable modification of images that can lead to incorrect classification by neural-network-based image classifiers, such as a stop sign being misidentified as a different sign) has important reliability and security implications. One adversarial attack is deemed stronger than another if it leads to misclassification with a smaller change in the image. So, researchers are interested in finding the absolute strongest attacks against a particular neural network. Ms. Weng asserted that little has been developed towards a comprehensive measure of robustness. She then presented a series of examples from her research on robustness evaluation and certification, including the first robustness score CLEVER, efficient certification algorithms Fast-Lin, CROWN, CNN-Cert, and probabilistic robustness verification algorithm PROVEN. Her proposed approaches are computationally efficient and provide good quality of robustness estimate/certificate as demonstrated by extensive experiments on MNIST, CIFAR and ImageNet.
(5) "Data Analysis and Visualization with MATLAB for Beginners": This was the title of a 2.5-hour course presented on March 18, remotely via Webex, by Dr. Aycan Hacioglu (Customer Success Engineer, MathWorks). Mathworks Application Engineers Dr. Bo Luan and Dr. Sharon Kim were also in attendance, as were 20 IEEE Central Coast Section members taking the course.
MATLAB is a programming environment for algorithm development, data analysis, visualization, and numerical computation. With MATLAB, one can solve technical computing problems faster than with traditional programming languages, such as C, C++, and Fortran.
During the first 75 minutes of this introductory course, Dr. Hacioglu provided an overview of MATLAB and its powerful statistical analysis and visualization capabilities, demonstrated how to acquire, analyze, and visualize data, briefly discussed desktop tools for editing and debugging code, and showed how to publish the results. Highlights included:
- Accessing data from files, spreadsheets, and other sources
- Performing statistical analysis, curve and surface fitting routines
- Developing algorithms and applications to automate one's workflow
- Generating reports in HTML and other file formats to share one's work
A one-hour hands-on session, involving interactive MATLAB Onramp training, followed. The course's final 15 minutes consisted of a short competition, with winners getting unspecified prizes, to be sent to them via e-mail.
[Slides (User = customer; PW = MathWorks)] [Webinar] [MATLAB Onramp] [MATLAB trial license]

2020/03/19 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
ACM 2019 Turing Award recipients Patrick M. (Pat) Hanrahan and Edwin E. (Ed) Catmull Man who wasn't allowed to visit his wife at a nursing home on their 67th wedding anniversary communicates with her from outside
Cartoon: Mouse ordering food at a restaurant Cartoon of the day: The US government's rescue plan (1) Images of the day: [Top left & center] The 2019 ACM Alan M. Turing Award, the highest honor in computing, has gone to Patrick M. (Pat) Hanrahan and Edwin E. (Ed) Catmull for fundamental contributions to 3-D computer graphics, and the revolutionary impact of these techniques on computer-generated imagery (CGI) in filmmaking and other applications. [Top right] Man who wasn't allowed to visit his wife at a nursing home on their 67th wedding anniversary communicates with her from outside. [Bottom left] My entry in New Yorker cartoon caption contest #700: "A block of Swiss cheese, please; mousetrap on the side." [Bottom right] Cartoon of the day: The US government's rescue plan.
(2) US colleges in disarray: Transition to on-line instruction, even where feasible, is hampered by dearth of knowledge and tools. International students are disproportionately affected by classroom and dorm closures. A deluge of tuition-refund requests is expected, for which no funding exists.
(3) Persian music: "Sar Oomad Zemestoon" ("Winter Is Over") is based on an Armenian folk song. The song is often taken to mean "Better Days Are Ahead," which is a great sentiment for both Iran and the US.
(4) Facebook spam filters contain an apparent bug, says Business Insider: "Facebook is blocking users from posting some legitimate news articles about the coronavirus in what appears to be a bug in its spam filters."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- An article, published in Nature, dispels the claim that coronavirus is human-made (biological weapon).
- China reports an expected 9% contraction in its economy, compared with last year's first quarter.
- As Trump repeatedly talks about the Chinese virus, Asian-Americans report increased assaults.
- There was talk of the Dow breaking 30,000 not too long ago: Instead, it broke 20,000, going down.
- Musical humor: "I Will Survive" teaching on-line!
- "Imagine": A message of hope and solidarity for our difficult times and beyond. [Video]
(6) Racist White House talk about Chinese or "Kung-Flu" virus, total lack of empathy, and Trump's Twitter attacks on governors who are taking or demanding action, are in direct conflict with Trump's call for non-partisanship and cooperation at the podium!
(7) On universities moving classes on-line: Some students lack access to shelter, food, or Wi-Fi in the wake of college campus closures. Calls for tuition refund are on the rise.
(8) Donald Trump admitted that he fired the NSC Pandemics scientists, explaining that he didn't want them on the payroll when there was no active threat and "when we need them, we can get them back very quickly." His apologists, however, are going around denying that he eliminated the office!
(9) The hoax becomes a health crisis: Trump and his apologists on the Dear-Leader news network pivoted, virtually overnight, from characterizing the coronavirus epidemic as "a hoax" and "totally under control" to talking about it as a serious national emergency.

2020/03/18 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Closed-theater owner's creativity and optimism are on display! During the period of not working or working from home, these pointers are quite helpful What people visualized if you said 'coronavirus' before 2020!
Goleta Trader Joe's: The stock is partially restored, but shoppers are limited to two of each item The mystery of how glass forms Humor: Tightened security in stores selling toilet paper! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Closed-theater owner's creativity and optimism are on display! [Top center] During the period of not working or working from home, these pointers are quite helpful. [Top right] What people visualized if you said "coronavirus" before 2020! [Bottom left] Goleta Trader Joe's: The stock is partially restored, but shoppers are limited to two of each item. There is a line to get in, so that in the aisles and at checkout, 6-foot spacing between people can be maintained. [Bottom center] The mystery of how glass forms (see the next item below). [Bottom right] Humor: Tightened security in stores selling toilet paper!
(2) Physicists are working to create ideal glass to unravel the mystery of why glass exists at all: When you cool a liquid, it will either crystallize (molecules are locked in a regular, repeating pattern) or harden into glass (free-flowing molecules don't reorganize, but simply grind to a halt). Which of the two happens depends on the substance and on the process subtleties that glassblowers have learned through trial and error over millennia.
(3) Lebanon's economy is on the verge of collapse: The country's financial system is hurting under the triple threat of coronavirus epidemic, Syrian refugees, and sinking oil prices, which has led to Labanese migrant workers in oil-rich countries sending home much less money. [Source: PBS Newshour]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Don't feel bad at home: Isaac Newton accomplished much while working from home during a pandemic.
- Music stars are live-streaming mini-concerts from home to provide entertainment for quarantined folks.
- Yesterday, I completed the US 2020 Census questionnaire on-line. It was quite painless! [Image]
- Humor: Mexico is now willing to pay to speed up the construction of the border wall!
- Persian music: Beautiful song based on a Hafez poem, which is included with this 3-minute video.
- May your sorrows burn in the bonfires of Chaharshanbeh Soori! [Calligraphic art]
(5) US national cybersecurity study: After a year of work, the Congressional Cyberspace Solarium Commission issued its report on the state of cybersecurity in the US, offering 75 recommendations for shoring up cyberdefense and tightening the government's cybersecurity policy responsibility. The recommendations include creating a Senate-confirmed National Cyber Director, a Bureau of Cyber Statistics, House and Senate cybersecurity committees, and a special fund to respond to and recover from cyberattacks.
(6) Chaharshanbeh Soori (a prelude to Norooz): The eve of the Persian calendar year's final Wednesday (last night), is when Iranians jump over bonfires, while telling the flames: "My yellow be yours, your red be mine." With this "purification rite," one wishes that the fire would take away sickness (yellow face) and other problems and in return provide warmth and redness (a sign of health). This year, many skipped the actual jumping but, in Iran, people appeared on balconies or at windows with a candle to celebrate and express solidarity.

2020/03/17 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Genius comic Robin Williams handing a roll of toilet paper to 'The Thinker' statue My traditional Norooz/Nowruz haft-seen spread Mehrangiz Manouchehrian: The first woman to earn a law degree in Iran as well as the first woman Senator (1) Images of the day: [Left] Robin Williams had predicted the shortage of toilet paper a long time ago! [Center] Haft seen: I finally brought myself to set up a haft-seen (seven S's) spread for Norooz/Nowruz and spring, due to arrive in two days. As we say in Persian, I did not have the heart and the mind (del o demaagh) for this annual tradition, given all that is going on in the world. In the end, what else can a very active house-bound person do but keep himself busy with something pleasant! I actually have eight S's, after replacing the unavailable Samanu with Sonbol and Sekkeh. [Right] Mehrangiz Manouchehrian (see the last item below).
(2) Joke of the day: A reporter asked a Jewish man, who had been praying at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall daily for 60 years, what he prayed for. "Harmony among different nations and religions, elimination of war, and safe transition of our youth into caring and responsible adults," was his answer. The reporter then asked how the old man feels about his efforts. He responded: "I feel like I have been talking to a wall."
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Senator Warren sounds the alarm on again bailing out corporations and leaving US taxpayers with the bill.
- It's really difficult not to touch your face: We do it habitually, without realizing that we do it.
- People are hoarding not just toilet paper, but also guns: Sales are reportedly surging in many states.
- Coronavirus distribution/spread: Informative article, with practical tips and lots of charts. [In Persian]
(4) Reviewing four of the best computers on the market. [Disclaimer: The opinions expressed aren't mine but come from a March 2020 article, based on CNET.com assessment.]
- Lenovo Yoga C930 puts its 360-degree hinges to work as the two-in-one's speaker system. The active pen is discreetly housed and charged in the body. Speed and battery life are excellent for its class. ~$1100
- Dell XPS 13 (2019): Dell has fixed this laptop's only remaining serious flaw, designing a super-slim 2mm webcam to fit into the thin screen bezel. Excellent keyboard, and decent battery life for a 4K laptop. $1700
- HP Spectre x360 (13-inch, 2019) is one of the best ultraportable two-in-ones, with lots of component options, including 3 display choices and class-leading battery life. Includes a sleeve and full-size active pen. ~$1000
- Microsoft Surface Pro 6 now comes with new quad-core processors that provides big performance gains. The new black color option looks cool. Still the best kickstand and keyboard for Windows tablets. $605-$900
(5) Mehrangiz Manouchehrian [1906-2000]: The first woman to earn a law degree in Iran as well as the first woman Senator, Manouchehrian was a fierce advocate of children's and women's rights. She resigned from her Senate seat when the Prime Minister insulted her during parliamentary debate and refused to apologize publicly. At issue was a law that required women to get permission from their husbands to travel abroad. She was the architect of Iran's pre-Islamic-Revolution family protection act, which was opposed by the clergy, who deemed its provisions un-Islamic. Not surprisingly, the law was scrapped after the mullahs took over.

2020/03/16 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A 104-year-old Iranian tombstone: It marks the grave of someone who perished in the Spanish Flu epidemic Coronavirus humor: Trump's and Pence's white-washing strategy exposed inadvertently in this photo! Bread shortage continues in the Santa Barbara area: Shopping at Ralphs on Sunday (1) Images of the day: [Left] A 104-year-old Iranian tombstone: It marks the grave of someone who perished in the Spanish Flu epidemic, which, according to the inscription's cautionary tale, killed 2/3 of the population. [Center] Coronavirus humor: Trump's and Pence's white-washing strategy exposed inadvertently in this photo! [Right] Bread shortage continues in the Santa Barbara area: Shopping at Goleta's Ralphs store on Sunday.
(2) Killing coronavirus with heat: This proposed heat-treatment is based on the fact that the virus dies at the temperature 56 C (133 F). It sounds reasonable, but I'm not certain.
(3) Santa Barbara County gets the first case of coronavirus in its northern part: Also, five UCSB students have been quarantined for coming in contact with a San Diego man who tested positive.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The big picture: Coronavirus cases have now been reported in 100 countries. [World map]
- A glimmer of hope: The last temporary hospital closes in Wuhan after dramatic fall in coronavirus cases.
- With coronavirus, the US faces a crisis that disproves everything the country believes about itself.
- Trump's ex-FDA chief critiques the administration, while maintaining respect in its inner circle.
- Persian music: Humorous song about the coronavirus epidemic and how people are dealing with it.
- For my Persian-speaking readers: Humor is the universal tool for coping with anxiety and stress! [Joke]
(5) In these difficult times, don't forget that many people are worse off: Those of us who have a home, where we can shelter or self-quarantine, have food in our pantries and freezers, continue to get paid (e.g., by working from home or using sick leave), and can keep in touch with our loved ones, even if remotely, should remember others who are less fortunate. Think of the homeless facing coronavirus. Of schoolchildren who relied on free or subsidized food programs, no longer available to them due to school closures. Of sports-arena workers and others who no longer have jobs. Of mom-and-pop restaurants that have lost up to one-half of their customers. Charitable giving is even more important now. [Touching video of Angelina Jolie accepting an award]
(6) Facebook & Twitter suspend Russian-linked accounts targeting African-Americans: The operation combined bogus accounts and actual residents of Ghana and Nigeria, apparently deceived into thinking they were serving an NGO by promoting inauthentic accounts, pages, and groups on social media platforms.

2020/03/15 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine celebrates 100 women, one for each year over the period 1920-2019 New species of tiny 'bird dinosaur' discovered UCSB's Professor Yasamin Mostofi has become an IEEE Fellow
Commemorative jewelry for 2020: Toilet-paper earrings Near-empty bread ailse at the Goleta Trader Joe's on Pi Day (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Time magazine's double issue of March 16/23, 2020, celebrates 100 women for the past century, 1920-2019. It has multiple covers and a large centerfold. [Top center] New species of tiny "bird dinosaur": Smaller than a hummingbird, the newly-discovered Oculudentavis, trapped in 99M-years-old amber, had sharp teeth on upper and lower jaws, suggesting that it was a predator. [Top right] UCSB's Professor Yasamin Mostofi honored: She has become an IEEE Fellow "for contributions to communications and control co-optimization in mobile sensor networks." An important achievement, particularly at such a young age. Congrats! [Bottom left] Commemorative jewelry for 2020! And here is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, 2020 edition. [Bottom right] Yesterday, I took my mom shopping at Goleta Trader Joe's and a couple of other stores, after dining at In-n-Out. The photo shows the bread aisle at TJ's. While shopping at Sprouts Farmers Market, wearing my Pi Day T-shirt, I encountered a beaming cashier, who began reciting the digits of pi from memory for a long time! She said she learned them for a school competition.
(2) Clever advertising by Wolfram for Pi Day: The company that markets Mathematica is offering a discount of 31.415%, rounded up to 32%, because a discount of only 3.14% would be totally irrational!
(3) Ayatollah Donald Trump has designated Sunday 3/15 as national prayer day for the coronavirus epidemic. What a brilliant idea: Dismiss the scientists; summon the preachers!
(4) Times are tough: I have made the Monday 3/16 final exam for my course on parallel processing optional, offering students the choice to be graded based on work already completed, with the final usable to improve their grades. I have also informed them of their tentative grades, without the optional final. This way, each student can decide based on his/her risk averseness whether s/he wants to take the in-person final.
(5) YouTube Live: In case you are looking for a way to put lectures and other instructional media on-line, I am experimenting with YouTube Live. Right now, I am at the beginning of the road, but will share on social media my experiences throughout the spring 2020 quarter. Here is the playlist I have started on my YouTube channel for the graduate course on computer arithmetic (UCSB ECE 252B). And here is my playlist for the freshman seminar, "Ten Puzzling Problems in Computer Engineering" (UCSB ECE 1B).
(6) My first experimentation with YouTube Live: This video, recorded on March 14, 2020, is an introduction to the graduate course "Computer Arithnmtic" (ECE 252B) at UCSB, along with its requirements for spring quarter 2020. Although I have recorded my class lectures before (for example to cover for absence during a conference trip), this is my first experience in recording an entire course, necessitated by the cancellation of in-person instruction at UCSB due to the coronavirus epidemic. Please excuse the rough edges, as I get used to the medium. [Course Web page] [Textbook Web page]

2020/03/14 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Colorful design: Happy Pi Day! My traditional Norooz/Nowruz poem, dedicated to family and friends a couple of weeks before the Persian New Year A bowl of jasmines from the plant on my carport trellis (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Pi Day! March 14 is known as Pi Day, because 3/14 matches the first three of the infinite sequence of digits in pi = 3.141 592 653 589 793 ... [Center] My traditional spring poem: Each year, I compose a cheerful poem to greet the arrival of spring, the Norooz/Nowruz Festival, and the Persian New Year. I must admit that in 2020, with the grim political situations in the US and Iran, and with the coronavirus spreading worldwide, I found it difficult to muster positivism and hope, and had to work harder as a result. Here is the poem, whose half-verse initial letters spell "New Year" and "Norooz." It is with pleasure that I dedicate this poem to my dear family members and Iranian friends, a week before the Persian New Year! I recite the poem in this 2-minute video. [Right] A bowl of jasmines from the plant on my carport trellis.
(2) In these days of social-distancing, real and virtual friendships become even more important. This meme, which I dedicate to all my friends, reads: "Take care of yourself, because there's just one of you in the world."
(3) UCSB cancels its Saturday 4/19, Open House 2020 (introducing the applicants to the campus, in an attempt to recruit them) and will hold a Virtual Open House on Wednesday 4/22, 1:00-7:00 PM, instead.
(4) In 2018, Trump fired all the scientists that formed the country's Pandemic Response Team within the National Security Council. On Friday, when asked about the team's dissolution, he characterized the question as "nasty" and denied that he had any role in the firings.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- We need more of such knowledgeable and persistent public servants: Rep. Katie Porter grills CDC Director.
- Computer/data scientists have begun studying how COVID-19 spreads and what can be done about it.
- Meme of the day: The keys to defeating an epidemic are trust and listening to the scientists. [Image]
- The Daily Show replaces March Madness with a competition to pick Trump's best word from 64 candidates.
- "I Can Get No Disinfection": The classic Rolling Stones song for the age of coronavirus. [Video]
- This is how a group of high-spirited Iranians spent their 10th day of self-quarantine! [Video]
- Iranian music: "Norooz Waltz," a cheerful oldie celebrating the Persian new year, performed a cappella.
- Iranian TV commercial from the mid-1970s, promoting a special Norooz/Nowruz edition of lottery tickets.
(6) Weather and climate modeling: US NOAA signs contract with Cray Computing to triple its weather and climate supercomputing capacity and improve forecast accuracy by closing the capabilities gap with Europe.
(7) Climate-change discussion at UCSB: Here is how I incorporated the "UCSB Reads 2020" seletion, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, into my winter course on parallel processing through a series of micro-projects, constituting half of the course,s homework assignments. [My review of Rising]

2020/03/13 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker cartoon: 'I really don't mind coming into the office to work' Probabilistic computing: Some slides from a talk by Dr. Kerem Camsari Protest sign reading 'How am I supposed to eat this pizza without my COLA?' (1) Images of the day: [Left] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "I really don't mind coming into the office to work." [Center] Probabilistic computing (see the last item below). [Right] Sense of humor by striking graduate students who want COLA (cost of living adjustment).
(2) Killing people for profits: This news report shows how water is sold to Iranian people as disinfectant, at high black-market prices, after going through four intermediaries, each one marking it further up. Disgusting!
(3) Iran introduces a coronavirus phone app, but Google pulls it from its App Store: Fear of spying on citizens may have played a role, given that the Iranian regime's past record makes it hard to believe that transparency and information sharing was the goal.
(4) Compulsory hijab isn't a minor or secondary problem: This backward law is at the heart of women's oppression in Iran. Watch this woman, minding her own business as she walks on the street, being harassed and physically assaulted by a pro-regime vigilante.
(5) Things are being cancelled, closed, or moved on-line, but war rages on!
- At my university (UCSB): Classes, Arts & Lectures, music/film events, meetings, ...
- In the United States: NCAA games, NBA season, Disneyland, Broadway, movie releases, ...
- On the world stage: Cruises, conferences, sporting events, non-essential travel, ...
(6) I don't know about you, but I am growing weary of things people say about the coronavirus pandemic: What to eat. What not to eat. What boosts your immune system. What weakens it. I've got the basics down and will be ignoring all the disinformation as well as the detailed, but unhelpful info.
(7) A practice worth reconsidering: Does the tradition of a father walking his daughter down the aisle for delivery to her husband-to-be represent transfer of ownership from one male to another? [Persian tweet]
(8) This afternoon, I attended a campus-wide Zoom meeting of the UCSB Faculty Legislature. The poor experience made me reconsider using Zoom for my classes during spring quarter, which begins on March 30.
(9) "Probabilistic Computing: From Materials and Devices to Circuits and Systems": This was the title of yesterday's interesting talk by Dr. Kerem Camsari (Post-doc, Purdue U.), a faculty candidate for UCSB's Computer Engineering Program. Probabilistic bits or p-bits exhibit some of the advantages of quantum bits or q-bits over conventional or deterministic bits, but they can be built scalably with present-day technology used in magnetic memory devices.
Dr. Camsari showed that p-bits can be used to build autonomous p-circuits to accelerate applications such as optimization, invertible logic, and machine learning, while providing a bridge to Noisy-Intermediate-Scale Quantum (NISQ) era quantum computers. He described a recent experimental 8-bit p-computer implementing a quantum-inspired optimization algorithm.

2020/03/12 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
A math teacher in southern Iran teaches an on-line class from home Coronavirus-related meme: Helping you avoid touching your face Coronavirus-related meme: 'aaftaabeh,' the Iranian solution to the shortage of toilet paper
UCSB's Computer Science Summit IranWire.com cartoon on the coronavirus: The Ayatollah's guests Two computer engineering capstone projects
Throwback Thursday, Part 3 Chart: US stock market performance under the last four presidents Throwback Thursday, Part 4 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Teachers rock: A math teacher in southern Iran teaches an on-line class from home, using the side of her refrigerator as a make-shift white board. [Top center & right] Coronavirus-related memes: Helping you avoid touching your face, and "aaftaabeh," the Iranian solution to the shortage of toilet paper. [Middle left] UCSB's Computer Science Summit on Wednesday 3/11 (see the next-to-last item below). [Middle center] IranWire.com cartoon of the day: The Ayatollah's guests. [Middle right] Two computer engineering capstone projects (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Throwback Thursday: March 12 images from years past. [Bottom center] Trump, who boasted daily when the stock market was breaking records, is now eerily quiet: Stocks are down ~10% for today, ~15% for the past week, ~20% for the past month (indexes today: Dow ~21,200; NASDAQ ~7,200; S&P500 ~2,480). The chart shows stock market performance under the last four presidents. [Bottom right] Throwback Thursday: In a commentary about her Time-magazine essay of 50 years ago, Gloria Steinem writes: "The single biggest determinant of whether a country is violent, or will use military violence against another country, is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy; it is violence against women."
(2) Bernie Sanders commits an unforced error (in my opinion): He has strong support among Muslim-Americans, which constitute an important voting block. However, allowing a Shi'i cleric to speak in Arabic at a Sanders campaign rally is a big mistake. I can imagine clips of this speech used against him by both parties. Don't get me wrong. Sanders has every right to pander to any group of voters and Muslim-Americans have every right to exercise their electoral power. It is the optics of a speech in Arabic by a mullah that troubles me.
(3) "Start spreading the flus": The song "New York, New York" needs to be updated! Governor Cuomo has designated a containment zone around New Rochelle, an area with the largest number of coronavirus infections in the US, and has sent in the National Guard, not to enforce isolation but to help people with acquiring food and other necessities. [Heading credit: Steven Colbert]
(4) Trump looks on wistfully: Russia has approved sweeping constitutional reforms that will allow Vladimir Putin to stay in power for another 12 years after his current term ends in 2024. [Source: AP]
(5) Throwback Thursday: (Part 1) "Tears and Smiles": This was the title under which the beloved 1960s movie "Sound of Music" was shown in Iran. As was common then, the film was dubbed into Persian, masterfully I might add, and for the first time ever, even the song lyrics were converted to Persian. [Facebook] [YouTube] (Part 2) "Horse with Golden Hoof": This 1950s Iranian song, performed by Viguen, appears to be based on Greek music, with lyrics in the Shirazi (Bakhtiari?) dialect of Persian. [Video] (Part 3) Reposting from March 12 of years past, 2014-2017 (image above). (Part 4) In a commentary about her Time-magazine essay of 50 years ago, Gloria Steinem writes: "The single biggest determinant of whether a country is violent, or will use military violence against another country, is not poverty, natural resources, religion, or even degree of democracy; it is violence against women" (image above).
(6) UCSB's Computer Science Summit: Wednesday, March 11, 2020, began with undergraduate student presentations, which I did not attend, due to other commitments, followed by a poster session on capstone projects of CE and CS seniors. Graduate student presentations were followed by Distinguished Speaker Dr. Li Deng (Chief AI Officer, Citadel), who talked about "From Speech AI to Finance AI, and Back."
(7) The two CE capstone projects I helped evaluate for ABET during yesterday's lunch-hour poster session:
#5 "Smart Meetings" (aka "Meeting Is Believing"), aimed at maximizing productivity during and after meetings. Sponsor: Invoca. Team: Max Ginger, Jackson Li, Christina Tao, Sarita Phoosopha, Tuan Le. [Vision] [Video]
#7 "Grand Potato" (aka "Text2Pay"), a secure app that allows consumers and merchants to complete transactions via texting or SMS on the consumer's phone, with no need for a terminal. Sponsor: PayJunction. Team: Benjamin Liu, Joanne Li, Howard Lin, Julia Liu, Junayed Naushad. [Vision] [Video]

2020/03/11 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: The price of a barrel of oil drops below the price of a family-size bucket of fried chicken! Iranian trucker puts up a banner to pay respects to Muhammad ibn Zakariya-ye Razi Stop thinking of this as the hottest summer of the last 125 years ... Start thinking of it as the coolest summer of the next 125
Meme by Doctors Without Borders about bombings in Syria Preparations in Iran's sports arenas are telling signs that coronavirus infections have spread to the point of overwhelming hospital facilities Canopy which collapsed in my courtyard under the weight of rainwater (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Meme of the day: The price of a barrel of oil drops below the price of a family-size bucket of fried chicken! [Top center] Iranian trucker puts up a banner to pay respects to Muhammad ibn Zakariya-ye Razi, 9th/10th-century Persian polymath, physician, alchemist, and philosopher, who is said to have discovered alcohol (now in great demand as a disinfectant against the coronavirus). [Top right] Stop thinking of this as the hottest summer of the last 125 years ... Start thinking of it as the coolest summer of the next 125 (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Doctors Without Borders: "A military bombing offensive in northwestern Syria has left hospitals destroyed, supplies depleted and over 600,000 people displaced. As this humanitarian crisis continues, we're increasing our assistance for those in need." [Bottom center] Preparations in Iran's sports arenas are telling signs that coronavirus infections have spread to the point of overwhelming hospital facilities. [Bottom right] Cleaning up in my courtyard: Besides working hard to plan for the rest of winter quarter and the beginning of spring quarter, in the wake of campus-wide directive to cancel in-person classes whenever possible (see the next item below), I have the challenge of disassembling and removing a canopy that collapsed and turned into a mangled mess of metal, under the weight of rain accumulation since Tuesday night. The product is likely defective, as the sloped tarp should not have collected rainwater.
(2) UCSB in-person classes mostly cancelled until the end of April: The recommendation is to cancel large lecture classes and meetings and to hold small classes/meetings for the rest of winter quarter, only if alternate arramgements cannot be made (student absences should be excused in the latter case). In my case, this affects just a single lecture on Wednesday 3/11. I have cancelled that lecture and am holding extra office hours, instead. My exam on Monday 3/16 will be held as scheduled, because I found it impossible to make alternate arrangements for it.
(3) How the US government bungled its coronavirus response: A team of researchers in the Seattle area were studying the spread of the flu and, once the first case of coronavirus was detected in late January, they asked the authorities to repurpose their aleady collected samples to monitoring the new virus. Authorities rejected the idea. Then came delays in testing, despite ample evidence of the virus spreading in Washington State.
(4) Climate Crisis 101: This highly-recommended free and open course, which is also offered for credit as English 23 at UCSB, is accessible through this Web site. Taught by Professor Ken Hiltner via YouTube lectures and open-source material, the course is built around environmental humanities. "The #1 thing that we can do to roll back global greenhouse gas emissions does not involve wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, or any sort of similar technologies. Instead, what is required is a cultural change regarding food: we need to waste far less of it and to switch to largely plant-rich diets. Doing so will result in a staggering reduction of 137 gigatons of CO2 or equivalent gases."

2020/03/10 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos: Trying to eat at home as much as possible, in the wake of the coronavirus threat The Hindu/Indian Festival of Holi, also known as 'Festival of Colors,' begins today Illustrating the robust on-line discussion about the shapes of pizzas and pizza boxes (1) Images of the day: [Left] Trying to eat at home as much as possible, in the wake of the coronavirus threat: Perhaps this positive habit will be reinforced by the current negative situation! I may have sauteed the barberries for a tad too long, as they are supposed to be a brighter shade of red when properly prepared. [Center] The Hindu Festival of Holi begins today: Also known as "Festival of Colors," this Indian celebration of spring involves jubilant crowds throwing colored water and powders at one another in a frenzy of festivities. [Right] Would you believe there is a robust on-line discussion about the shapes of pizzas and pizza boxes? Here are some examples besides the standard round pizza in a square box.
(2) Today is Mario Day, named for the most-successful video game franchise in history. [Mar 10, get it?]
Mario the plumber first appeared in 1981's Donkey Kong. Many retailers are holding Mario-themed sales.
(3) It would be interesting to see how the spat between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which led to a sharp drop in oil prices and contributed to a correction in the US stock market, will affect Trump's relationships with his top two favorite dictators!
(4) Christian convert Ismaeil Maghrebinejad gets two more years of prison time in Iran for "Evangelical Zionist Christianity" and "insulting Islamic sacred beliefs." [Source: IranWire.com]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian-French academic Fariba Adelkhah, jailed in Iran since June, is ill from her 51-day hunger strike.
- Elizabeth Warren and her impersonator Kate McKinnon on "Saturday Night Live." [10-second video]
- Amazing acoustics: Scholars recreate how music sounded inside Istanbul's Hagia Sofia five centuries ago.
- Word puzzle for my Persian-speaking readers: Unscramble these Persian words to form animal names.
(6) Iranian officials should be tried for crimes against humanity: Qom clerics, who appealed to officials to quarantine the city, long before any public announcement on the coronavirus crisis, were bullied into keeping quiet. [Source: IranWire.com]
(7) In-person class cancellations: The number of US colleges that have cancelled in-person classes because of coronavirus concerns reaches 40 and is rising daily. UCSB is preparing for alternate instructional methods, in case needed, but is continuing as usual in this last week of winter-quarter classes.

2020/03/09 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Bernie Sanders seems to enjoy his Persian rug, likely coming from Iran's Kerman Province S&P chart: Stocks tumble on double-whammy of coronavirus spread and oil price drop The latest Newsweek magazine cover: OK Millennial (1) Images of the day: [Left] Bernie Sanders seems to enjoy his Persian rug, likely coming from Iran's Kerman Province. [Center] Stocks tumble on double-whammy of coronavirus spread and oil price drop: Chart shows S&P 500 index. At today's market close, S&P 500 stood at 2747; Dow closed at 23,851, down by 2014 points. [Right] The latest Newsweek magazine cover.
(2) Coronavirus is creating conflicts and social unrest: Six inmates died in Italy during protests over virus measures. Street clashes are reported in Iran's Mazandaran Province between locals and Tehrani vacationers.
(3) Coronavirus infections in Iran likely in the millions, not the thousands: Models based on the number of senior officials afflicted or dead, and the number of cases in other countries originating from Iran, predict with high certainty that Iran is deliberately under-reporting the number of cases.
(4) In Mexico, 10-15 women are killed daily and more than 50% have suffered violence due to their gender. Today women across Mexico will take part in a "national stoppage" by not going to work or school, in protest.
(5) Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim, which commemorates Jews living in the Persian Empire being saved from massacre in the 5th century BCE, as recounted in the Bible's Book of Esther.
(6) Climate change puts the future of Netherland's famed 125-mile speed-skating race in doubt, as waterways no longer freeze in winter. [Compelling 13-minute report from CBS News' "60 Minutes"]
(7) What is social democracy? I recently engaged in an on-line argument with a relative who is nominally educated, but like all Trump supporters I have interacted with on Facebook, resorts to insulting and labeling people, instead of presenting arguments and facts. I pointed out that neither I nor Democratic presidential candidates support "communism" (her favorite scare word) or unqualified "socialism." One candidate self-identifies as a democratic-socialist, which is something quite different. I suggested that she educate herself in this area before expressing opinions and pointed her to this very short introduction to social democracy.
In response to her reminder about this being America (typical Trumpster's flag-waving and misrepresentation of American values), I suggested that it is she who needed a reminder of this being America, where ideas are heard with respect and debated with arguments and facts, not with insults and labels.

2020/03/08 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Banner for International Women's Day
Portrait of Senator Elizabeth Warren Photo: What if we saw real women on fashion runways? Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the cover of Time magazine (1) Images of the day: [Top] Happy International Women's Day to all the women of the world and to all others who support their struggle for equal rights! [Left & Right] On this International Women's Day, no images are more representative of perseverance and women's-rights activism than those of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. [Center] What if we saw real women on fashion runways?
(2) Iranians aren't taking the coronavirus pandemic seriously: This photo shows the traffic jam on one of the roads connecting Tehran to the Caspian-Sea region. The flood of travelers using the opportunity of work/school closures to "vacation" in Guilan and Mazandaran has turned these provinces into coronavirus hotspots.
(3) Brave Iranian woman lashes out at authorities, whose inept handling of the coronavirus epidemic has led to many infections and deaths in the Caspian-Sea province of Guilan. [3-minute video]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Politicizing public health: White House over-rules CDC, which recommended that seniors avoid flying.
- Jailed Iranian lawyer and activist Nasrin Sotoudeh writes a plea for peace on International Women's Day.
- Not all sociopolitically-active Iranian women self-identify as feminists, but they are feminists indeed!
- Stanford University joins University of Washington in cancelling class attendance, until further notice.
- Genetics research: Almost 1/4 of Hispanics and Latinos are descendants of forcibly-converted Jews.
- On panic-buying being a symptom of individualism gone awry. [Tweet, by Julia Simons]
- Let's forget about diseases and the stock market with this dance performance by two young boys.
(5) OPEC discord leads to major oil-price drop: Meeting to deal with oil prices in the wake of the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, OPEC members failed to reach agreement. The Saudis promptly announced that they are slashing oil prices and expanding production. The result was a 30% drop in crude-oil prices and a 1000-point decline in oil futures index. This price drop will be particularly hard on Iran, which needs resources for combatting the coronavirus epidemic.
(6) An interview with Dr. Fiona Hill, the competent and courageous Russia advisor, who gave compelling testimony during Trump's impeachment inquiry. [13-minute report from CBS News' "60 Minutes"]

2020/03/07 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Moronovirus: Donald Trump Moronovirus: Supreme Leader Khamenei The Great Mosque of Mecca, normally filled to the brim with pilgrims, is nearly deserted in this recent photo
PhotoShopped photo of Donald Trump with a man-bun Cartoon: Your pilot is working from home today Disney's release plans for the $200 million remake of 'Mulan' upended by the coronavirus outbreak (1) Images of the day (special coronavirus outbreak edition): [Top left & center] Inept leaders, blaming "hoaxers" and "enemies" for the coronavirus-caused havoc in their countries. [Top right] The Great Mosque of Mecca, normally filled to the brim with pilgrims, is nearly deserted in this recent photo. [Bottom left] Trump is likely furious with this fake photo of him, tweeted by his son, using the caption, "Now, liberals will love him." I've got news for Don Jr.: Liberals won't love any version of this vile man! [Bottom center] Cartoon of the day: Coronavirus and the trend of working from home. [Bottom right] Disney's release plans for the $200 million remake of "Mulan" upended by the coronavirus outbreak.
(2) NASA's rover-naming contest result announced: Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. These are the names of past NASA rovers. What will come next? Perseverance!
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Two die from coronavirus in Florida, constituting the first East-Coast deaths and raising the US total to 19.
- Experts identify Trump as "Patient 0" in a deadly misinformation epidemic being spread in the US.
- Another GOP hypocrite, fiercely against LGBTQ-protection laws while in US Congress, comes out as gay.
- Trump uses Jews/Israel to get votes from evangelicals: Fewer than 1/3 of American Jews will vote for him.
- An impressive example of digital projection of images on buildings. [3-minute video]
(4) Transformation of the US to a banana republic is nearing completion: Officials at CDC and other US government entities are now considering ways of releasing facts to the public, without antagonizing Trump!
(5) Coronavirus takes a toll on celebrations and other gatherings: I was planning to cancel my visit to Farhang Foundation's Norooz/Nowruz celebration at UCLA on Sunday 3/08, given CDC's recommendation that people over 60 stay away from crowded areas. Tonight, I heard from my daughter that the event has been cancelled. At UCSB, too, events, including conferences, are being cancelled left and right.
(6) Economic aftermath of the coronavirus: Entire industries are hurting (cruise-ship operators, hotels, and airlines, in particular), and some may go under if the current emergency persists.
Healthcare and job benefits, or lack thereof, are front and center. Most Americans lack guaranteed sick leave to be able to self-quarantine at home. It's unclear who will pay for the required tests and through-the-roof med prices, now that people are asked to stockpile in case of supply disruptions.
Work-from-home is applicable to managerial and office workers. Nearly half of Americans, who work in service industries (sales, flipping burgers, cleaning, gardening, etc.), don't have that luxury.
So, we have the health risks and potential deaths, which clearly have the highest priority, but these will be followed by even more serious economic problems for the next president to clean up. [Map]

2020/03/05 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker cartoon caption contest #670 Cartoon, mocking some supporters of the Iranian regime who deliberately kiss or even lick enclosures at religious shrines Cartoon: 'It's cultural, gentlemen--these other countries can't possibly understand that nothing is ever our fault.' (1) Cartoons of the day: [Left] My submission to New Yorker cartoon caption contest #670: "I carry only one of the meds. The other one you have to get from a vet pharmacy." (I participated regularly in this contest a few years ago, but this is my first entry after a long while. Never won by being among the top-three submissions, but came close once, when my caption was chosen as a "runner-up" in fifth postion!) [Center] Certain supporters of the Iranian regime deliberately kiss or even lick enclosures at religious shrines to show that the healing powers of such shrines are stronger than the coronavirus. [Right] "It's cultural, gentlemen—these other countries can't possibly understand that nothing is ever our fault." (From: New Yorker]
(2) Hindu nationalism: While Trump was praising Indian PM Modi for unifying his country, 50 Indian Muslims were being killed in Delhi attacks: Protests are scheduled today at 21 US universities led primarily by the schools' Indian populations, as they prepare to celebrate the spring festival of Holi.
(3) Refugees as political pawns: Turkey is allowing refugees, mostly from Syria but also from Iran and elsewhere, to try to cross into Greece, but Greece is pushing them back. Both countries are playing to get EU's attention by compromising the physical and emotional well-being of desperate people.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A cruise ship is held off California coast after a disembarked passenger dies of coronavirus.
- World Health Organization announces 3.4% death rate from coronavirus: Trump disputes the number.
- Couple, 84 and 81, married for 58 years, among the dead in Tennessee tornadoes.
- NBC (and Japan) nervous about the possibility of Tokyo Olympics cancellation due to coronavirus.
- This 7-minute video states and visualizes the effects of sea-level rise on New York and other coastal cities.
- And this 27-minute documentary focuses on the effects of sea-level rise on south Florida.
(5) Elizabeth Warren drops out of the US presidential race: This is a sad day in our history, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. Warren was likely not going to be the Democratic nominee, but absence of a woman on the front lines of US politics will be felt, as the assault on women's rights continues.

2020/03/04 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
VP Mike Pence leads his coronavirus task force in prayers Winning designs for Farhang Foundation's 2020 Norooz banners Humorous meme of the day about Ayatollah Jannati, famous for his longevity (1) Images of the day: [Left] VP Mike Pence leads his coronavirus task force in prayers, asking God to not let the epidemic ruin Trump's chances of re-election in 2020! [Center] Farhang Foundation's Norooz banners for 2020: Paris-based graphic designer Setareh Feylizadeh submitted these winning designs. [Right] Humorous meme of the day: Ayatollah Jannati, famous for his longevity, assures the people of Iran that he will let future generations know about the hardships they have endured!
(2) Coronavirus messaging in Iran: Revolutionary Guards put the squeeze on healthcare workers by ordering that all treatment and fatality data must go through them for release to the public.
(3) Democratic institutions in the US are under attack: An article written by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen a couple of days after our 2016 election is a must-read now, because she warned against the assault on the Department of Justice and other institutions by Trump, who had said in his campaign speeches that he would instruct his Attorney General to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Why didn't America believe at the time that it wasn't hyperbole and that he really meant it? Gessen cites eye-opening examples from how Putin and Erdogan took over, crushed long-standing institutions, and amassed power in short order.
Here are Gessen's six rules that help us survive autocracy (from her article of November 10, 2016). Pay particular attention to Rule #3, because we have had numerous examples of people who acted according to their responsibilities within our democratic institutions being fired or forced to leave. Not only that, but, in many cases, conscientious actors were attacked viciously and retaliated against even after they left the government.
Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. They depend on the good will of actors within, not on law.
Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1, you will not be surprised.
Rule #5: Don't make compromises, as Ted Cruz and other Republicans have done.
Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever.
(4) Global Higher Education in 2050: Imagining Universities for Sustainable Societies (UCSB Loma Pelona Center, March 4-5): Today, I attened a couple of talks in this open-to-the-public conference on campus to get a sense of what education visionaries have in mind for universities of the future. I heard nothing earth-shattering, so I won't attend any of tomorrow's talks, when I have no class or office hour. [Program] [Flyer & Photo]
(5) Borna Izadpanah's "Early Persian Printing and Typefounding in Europe" (J. Printing Historical Society, 2018) includes a description of Persian nasta'liq punches of the Medici Press, cut by Jean Cavillon in the 1590s.

2020/03/03 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos taken on March 2, 2020, around UCSB North Campus Open Space and Devereux Slough Cartoon: Happy Super-Tuesday! Two episodes of the 1950s TV program 'Stars of Jazz' screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater
Math puzzle: The triangle ABC has side lengths 3, 4, and 5. What is the size of its inscribed circle? UCSB Conference (March 4-5, 2020): Global Higher Education in 2050 Tweets of the day for my Persian-speaking readers (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Photos I took during yesterday afternoon's walk around UCSB North Campus Open Space and Devereux Slough. [Top center] Happy Super-Tuesday! [Top right] "Stars of Jazz" screening (see the last item below). [Bottom left] Math puzzle: The triangle ABC has side lengths 3, 4, and 5. What is the size of its inscribed circle shown in the diagram? [Bottom center] Global Higher Education in 2050: Imagining Universities for Sustainable Societies (UCSB Loma Pelona Center, March 4-5, 2020, 9:00-6:00): Scholars from several countries discuss what universities will be like, and what we want them to be like, in 30 years. [Bottom right] Tweets of the day for my Persian-speaking readers.
(2) Three West Coast colleges (in WA, OR, CA) potentially exposed to coronavirus: Cancellation of athletic events and international student-exchange programs are under consideration nationwide.
(3) Coronavirus in Iran: A nation banned from simple pleasures of life by grim-faced, hate-mongering mullahs for four decades suddenly discovers music and dance as coping tools in its bleakest hour.
(4) Israeli stand-up wheelchair gets FDA approval for marketing in the US.
(5) Gender inequality in science careers and publishing: Men's and women's contributions are similar in terms of amount and impact, so the gender gap is due to woman having shorter careers and higher drop-out rates.
(6) "Fast and Accurate Deep Neural Network Training": This was the title of a technical talk by faculty candidate Yang You (UC Berkeley) at UCSB this morning (March 3). [Speaker's detailed abstract]
(7) "Architecting Persistent Memory Systems": This was the title of a technical talk by faculty candidate Aasheesh Kolli (Penn State U.) at UCSB this afternoon (March 3). [Speaker's detailed abstract]
(8) "Stars of Jazz": Attending tonight's screening of two episodes of the late-1950s TV show, restored digitally from material held by the UCSB Library, was an amazing experience. The two episodes screened at UCSB's Pollock Theater as part of the "TV at the Pollock" series had Modern Jazz Quartet and Count Basie Orchestra as performing guests. The sparsely-attended screening was followed by a discussion with sound engineer Nicholas Berg and archivist Mark Quigley. This UCLA Web page has a description of the restoration project.

2020/03/02 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Sports Illustrated cover image Spending on healthcare and outcome in terms of life expectancy for the US and several other countries Time magazine cover image, issue of March 2&9, 2020 (1) Images of the day: [Left] Dominant athletes in many sports become household names and celebrities: Not in skiing, at least not in the US! [Center] The US Healthcare system is sick: We spend more money on healthcare than any other country and the results, as measured by life expectancy, are the worst among advanced countries. (Source: Time magazine, issue of March 2&9, 2020) [Right] Time magazine's special report about the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom (issue of March 2&9, 2020).
(2) Shades of the Japanese-American internment during World War II: People are reportedly avoiding China towns and Chinese restaurants for fear of the coronavirus. Chinese-American businesses are hurting as a result. There is absolutely no evidence that any area or ethnic group in the US is more likely to transmit the virus.
(3) Human-testing of a treatment drug for COVID-19 coronavirus has already begun and trial of vaccines shipped to NIH by US-based Moderna Therapeutics may start as early as April 2020.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- History shows that, on average, epidemics have no long-term impact on global market performance. [Chart]
- A graphic designer expresses the gratitude of the people of Iran to health-care workers. #Coronavirus
- Quote: "Love is like an hourglass with the heart filling up as the brain empties." ~ Jules Renard (1864-1910)
- Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius died in 1744 at 43, though his rival Farenheit was convinced he was 109.
- Persian poetry recitation: This 1-minute video is uncredited. [The poem's full text]
- Iranian regional music and dance: These two young Iranian boys break the taboo of dancing like women.
- Music and dance of southern Iran: Hikers take a break to perform "Pol-e Karoun" ("Karoun River Bridge").
- Mesmerizing music: Credits at the beginning of this 3-minute video say "Paola," followed by text in Greek.
(5) India publishes a most-impressive Shahnameh: This new version of Ferdowsi's "Book of Kings" weighs 32 kg (50 kg with its ivory-decorated box). It boasts calligraphically-written and fully-decorated pages of dimensions 50 cm by 90 cm.
(6) Coronavirus cases and deaths continue to rise: There have been 6 deaths in the US, 66 in Iran (but no one believes the government's stats), and 3000 worldwide.
(7) Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof wins Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear Award: Not one mention of this achievement in Iran's state-controlled media, because Rasoulof isn't one of the regime-supported artists.
(8) "Science, the Endless Frontier": This is the title of a report submitted in July 1945 by Vannevar Bush, an American engineer and science administrator in charge of military research during World War II, to President Harry S. Truman, who had just replaced President Franklin D. Roosevelt upon his death. In 2020, we will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of that landmark report. Vannevar Bush is also credited with foreseeing in his celebrated 1945 article "As We May Think" what we have come to know as the Worldwide Web.

2020/03/01 (Sunday): Climate change and parallel processing: Participating in the "UCSB Reads" program.
Each year, "UCSB Reads" selects a book for campus-wide perusal/discussion and encourages professors to incorporate the book into their curricula, if feasible. I had never had an occasion to do this, given that I teach graduate engineering courses not easily connected to the typical "UCSB Reads" book. This year is different. The selected book, Elizabeth Rush's acclaimed Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, is about climate change (see-level rise, to be exact), and my ECE 254B graduate course on parallel processing deals with the design of high-performance supercomputers that play key roles in running computationally-intensive weather and climate models.
The topic is particularly timely, given alarming developments in the US in opposing climate-change action and the fact that April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, inaugurated a year after the Santa Barbara oil spill of winter 1969, which remains the largest spill off the coast of California (it is now the all-time third largest, including the subsequent Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents). Speaking of oil spills, I recently read Rachel Maddow's meticulously-researched book, Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, about the global oil industry and its greedy, devious practices. Here is my review of Blowout on GoodReads. And here is my review of Rising.
My participation in "UCSB Reads" via ECE 254B entails the use of four micro-projects as part of homework assignments during winter 2020. Enrolled students have gotten free copies of Rising from UCSB Library. The micro-projects will explore the role of high-performance computing in modeling various aspects of climate change, with the third in the series focusing on sea-level rise.
Micro-Project A: From Weather Forecasting to Climate Modeling
Micro-Project B: Ocean-Temperature Modeling: Monster Storms
Micro-Project C: Modeling of Sea-Level Rise: Disappearing Lands
Micro-Project D: Extreme-Weather Projections from Climate Data
Each micro-project entails studying the types of computer models involved, computational requirements of the models, how the computations are performed on top-of-the-line supercomputers, and data sets that allow drawing various conclusions from the modeling results. At the time of this writing, the students have completed and turned in their reports for three of the micro-projects, and the fourth one has been assigned on the winter quarter 2020 edition of ECE 254B Web page, which also contains a list of additional references (beyond the few listed in the statements of microporjects).
Descriptions of Micro-Projects A-D are given below, for those who are interested in more details.
Micro-Project A: From Weather Forecasting to Climate Modeling
Numerical weather prediction has a long history. As noted at the beginning of Section 1.3 of our textbook, British meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson formulated a vision for using a large number of "computers" (humans, with mechanical calculators) to speed up the required calculations. Now, fast processors can do a decent job of running weather models and many thousands of processors can be used to perform the calculations required by more sophisticated models within hours, not weeks or months.
Your assignment is to prepare a single-spaced typed report (12-point font, 3 pages max, including figures and references) that discusses the computational requirements of modern weather prediction models, as well as models for climate forecasting, enumerating the differences between the two kinds of models in terms of the data they use, prediction time-frames, and the kinds of calculations involved. How does the availability of exascale computers help improve accuracy and execution speed for these models?
Micro-Project B: Ocean-Temperature Modeling: Monster Storms
An aspect of climate and long-term weather modeling is predicting ocean temperatures, as briefly discussed on p. 7 of our textbook. One might think that the oceans all being connected to one another means that temperature should stabilize after a while to a common global ocean temperature. This is far from being the case, as this world-sea-temperatures map indicates. So, a key question is: How do we go about predicting ocean temperatures in a decade? In 20 years? In 50 years? This is important, because ocean temperatures have a direct impact on the number and intensity of hurricanes and other storms, and they also affect weather phenomena more generally.
Your assignment is to prepare a single-spaced typed report (12-point font, 3 pages max, including figures and references) that discusses the computational requirements of ocean-temperatures forecasting models, the kinds of calculations involved, and trade-offs between model accuracy and computation time. [Link 1] [Link 2]
[Wand19] N. Wanders, M. T. H. van Vliet, Y. Wada, M. F. P. Bierkens, and L. P. H. van Beek, "High-Resolution Global Water Temperature Modeling," Water Resources Research, Vol. 55, pp. 2760-2778, April 2019. [PDF]
Micro-Project C: Modeling of Sea-Level Rise: Disappearing Lands
Sea levels rise by three distinct mechanisms: (1) Thermal expansion; (2) Increase in water mass; (3) Depth changes due to movements in the Earth's crust. Predicting sea-level rise is important. Entire island nations will disappear with a rise of only a few feet. Other nations will lose low-lying coastal lands, which are usually densely-populated regions. New York and 16 other US cities will suffer significant displacements and property loss with just a 10-foot rise in sea level (some projections go well beyond 10 feet). Stories from some of these endangered US coastal regions are covered in the "UCSB Reads" book, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore. Cities like Venice (Italy) are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise.
Your assignment is to prepare a single-spaced typed report (12-point font, 3 pages max, including figures and references) that discusses the computational requirements of sea-level rise models, the kinds of calculations involved, sources of uncertainty in the predictions, and probabilistic resolution of such uncertainties.
[Swee17] W. V. Sweet, R. Horton, R. E. Kopp, A. N. LeGrande, and A. Romanou, "Sea Level Rise," Climate Science Special Report: Fourth National Climate Assessment (Vol. I), D. J. Wuebbles, D. W. Fahey, K. A. Hibbard, D. J. Dokken, B. C. Stewart, and T. K. Maycock (eds.), US Global Change Research Program, Chapter 12, pp. 333-363, 2017. [Link]
Micro-Project D: Extreme-Weather Projections from Climate Data
The term "extreme weather" refers to intense heat/cold waves, widespread floods, prolonged droughts, severe winds, and the like. An analogy with performance records in sports and other domains might be helpful. Over time, sports records improve, because of enhanced techniques and better training, as well as random variations. However, there are factors at play that also lead to more frequent breaking of records. Examples include better equipment (e.g., soccer balls, running shoes, or baseball bats), which are sometimes viewed as giving modern atheletes an unfair edge. In the domain of music, record sales provide another example, where higher sales figures do not necessarily mean better music. In extreme-weather modeling, too, we look for underlying factors beyond random variations. Predicting droughts in California is one of the important areas of focus in the US.
Your assignment is to prepare a single-spaced typed report (12-point font, 3 pages max, including figures and references) that discusses the computational requirements of extreme-weather projection models, the kinds of calculations involved, and how the models tie in with those of the previous three micro-projects.
[Pete13] T. C. Peterson et al., "Monitoring and Understanding Changes in Heat Waves, Cold Waves, Floods and Droughts in the United States: State of Knowledge," Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 94, pp. 821-834, June 2013. [PDF]

2020/02/29 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Humor, memes, cartoon for the end of a wild week! Table: Comparing a few recent deadly epidemics Rural Iran: Nature and lifestyles, batch 2
Rural Iran: Nature and lifestyles, batch 1 Rural Iran: Nature and lifestyles, batch 3 Rural Iran: Nature and lifestyles, batch 4 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Humor/memes for the end of a wild week! [Top center] Comparing a few recent deadly epidemics: COVID-19 (Wuhan coronavirus) is more widespread than others and more deadly than all, but Ebola, as of Friday, February 28, 2020. First US fatality was reported today in Washington state. [Top right & bottom row] Rural Iran: Nature and lifestyles.
(2) One of the reasons Iran is a coronavirus hotspot: This is the second person to post a video demonstrating his "faith" (licking the enclosure at a religious shrine) in recent days. Worthy "Darwin Awards" candidates!
(3) Soap is your best bet for hand sanitization, but you must wash for at least 20 seconds: When you don't have access to soap, use hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol. Alcohol-free "natural" hand sanitizers don't work.
(4) US-Taliban peace deal signed: Normally, I would jump up for joy when there is any progress towards peace, but bringing a religious cult that oppressed and slaughtered Afghan people, particularly women, back to power is no cause for celebration. After decades of violence against Afghans and US troops, the Taliban are being rewarded for refraining from violence for a single week. Just one week! This is retreat, not peace!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Leap Day: Four times as many birthday wishes to the poor souls who celebrate once every 4 years!
- A paper that predicted the outbreak of a bat-borne coronavirus one year ago. [5-minute video]
- British theoretical physicist, mathematician, and influential author Freeman Dyson dead at 96. RIP.
- Joe Coulombe, 1967 founder of Trader Joe's, dead at 89: Let's open a $2 bottle of wine in remembrance.
- Bernie Sanders doesn't golf: That's $334 million in savings right there!
- UCSC fires 54 graduate-student workers who went on strike to demand a cost-of-living salary adjustment.
- Leaning Tower of Dallas: Designer takes pride in his creation that has proven super-tough to demolish.
- My jasmines are blooming: Norooz and spring are on their way! [Photo]
- John E. Southard: "The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you."
- Persian Music: Two videos, each with its unique charms. [Happy New Year song] [Pop-songs medley]
(6) Today's screening of "Toy Story 4" at UCSB's Pollock Theater, as part of the "Script to Screen" series: The film tells the story of Woody (a cowboy toy, voiced by Tom Hanks) finding his way and place in the world. The screening was followed by a conversation with co-screenwriter Stephany Folsom. [Images]
(7) "If at first you don't succeed, welcome to Trump administration" (Steven Colbert): Two cases in point. Mike Pence, who failed bigly in controlling the HIV epidemic when he was governor of Indiana, is now heading the coronavirus task force. Congressman John Ratcliff, who withdrew his candidacy for Director of National Intelligence when it was revealed that he had faked his credentials, is renominated by Trump for the post.

2020/02/28 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Big rig stalled at Goleta's busiest intersection (Storke & Hollister) Deadlier than the coronavirus: A cartoon by Touka Neyestani Iranwire.com cartoon: Khamenei hiding the coronavirus under his robe (1) Images of the day: [Left] Early yesterday morning, a big rig that had stalled at Goleta's busiest intersection (Storke & Hollister), along with a utilities repair project further south, created a rarely-seen traffic nightmare. [Center] Deadlier than the coronavirus: A cartoon by Touka Neyestani. [Right] Iranwire.com cartoon: Only a few people, mostly law-enforcement personnel, died in the 2019 street protests. Ukraine Airlines Flight 752 crashed due to technical problems. The enemy wants to harm us by spreading coronavirus rumors. Right!
(2) Pence will be heading the coronavirus task force to control the messaging, not the disease: Remember that Trump gave himself an A+ for handling the response to Hurricane Maria. I hope virus and pandemic experts speak the truth and are not intimated into sugar-coating their reports out of fear of the Bully-in-Chief!
(3) Coronavirus #Injustice: Iran's parliament members have been given free tests, kits with masks and other supplies, and a break until after the Norooz holidays. Meanwhile, government workers have gotten none of these. In fact, they have been threatened with replacement if they don't show up for work!
(4) Your brain knows the meds you need: Results of an exciting new study, reported in Nature Biotechnology, suggest that a simple brain test, combined with the use of AI, can help prescribe the right antidepressant to depressed individuals. The current practice of prescribing one med, tracking its effects for weeks, and then moving on to the next option, takes too long. A non-invasive EEG test that records brain waves can predict which med will work. [Source: Time magazine, issue of March 2&9, 2020]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Makers of hand sanitizers and household disinfectants step up production as demands rise.
- A space rock, a few feet across, has become a second moon to our Earth, at least for now.
- Humor-challenged mullah: Ayatollah Jannati's attempted joke about his being a subject of US sanctions!
- Persian poetry: Recitation of a poem from Sa'adi's Boustan collection (on justice, wisdom, and opinion).
(6) Iranian sprinter Farzaneh Fasihi finishes first in this 60-meter race, despite her cumbersome clothing: Interestingly, the race cannot be shown in Iran.
(7) Get to know junk healthcare plans that the Trump administration is pushing to replace Obamacare: They have lower premiums for healthy individuals but don't cover even essential healthcare needs, can charge arbitrarily high premiums for sick people, and have various caps and lifetime limits that leave patients stranded once they begin treatment.
(8) Final thought for the day: We all need to take a break from coronavirus, Republican corruption, and Trump-created crisis of the day and laugh for a minute. Hope this video helps!

2020/02/27 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Nurse Narjes Khanalizadeh, 25, dies in northern Iran after caring for coronavirus patients New Yorker cartoon: On Facebook's handling of fake news! A few college classmates visiting my home in the Vanak neighborhood of Tehran, posing inside our empty pool (1) Images of the day: [Left] Waves of bad news are arriving from Iran: I am posting this announcement merely as an example. Narjes Khanalizadeh, a 25-year-old nurse, has died in the Caspian-region city of Lahijan, taking care of coronavirus patients. RIP. [Center] New Yorker cartoon: On Facebook's handling of fake news! [Right] Throwback Thursday: A few college classmates visiting my home in the Vanak neighborhood of Tehran, posing inside our empty pool.
(2) John Oliver's hilarious take on Trump and Modi: Trump calls Modi "The Father of India" (unaware that Gandhi already has that title) who has brought the country together. But Modi's Hindu nationalism has actually torn the country apart, much as Trump's White nationalism has done in the US.
(3) India built a 7-foot wall to hide a slum on Trump's path to a rally: Reminds me of overnight filling of potholes and painting of dilapidated roadside walls whenever the Shah or Empress Farah came to the Vanak neighborhood of Tehran to visit the Girls' College.
(4) The stock market is in free fall: Meanwhile, Trump, who has taken credit for every single upward movement and each new record set, is blaming others for the 10% drop of the last few days. This is very similar to Iran's leaders blaming "the enemy" for coronavirus fears and their country's other ills.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Long overdue: Will the time for a woman US President arrive soon? [15-minute video]
- Living on and climbing frighteningly steep mountains: China's beautiful nature on full display!
- Quote (humor): "Coronavirus under complete control in the US." ~ Biology lab at Trump University
- Persian music & poetry: Keivan Saket plays the setar and recites Fereydoon Moshiri's poem entitled "Hand."
(6) Believe me, I know more about coronavirus than doctors: We usually laugh at Trump's incompetence and stupid pronouncements, but, in the case of a deadly disease, "alternative facts" can kill us, especially now that we have the anti-science VP Mike Pence in charge of the US coronavirus task force. Rush Limbaugh thinks that warnings about the potential spread of coronavirus are parts of a conspiracy to bring Trump down! In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia suspends pilgrimage visits for fear of coronavirus pandemic.
(7) All the coronavirus news from Iran: A doctor complains that while his hospital's intensive care unit lacks sufficient coronavirus test kits for critical patients, members of the parliament have been tested so that their precious lives are not threatened! [Tweet] Khamenei, Rouhani, and other Iranian officials are dismissing the threat of coronavirus. As people live in fear and continue to die, they claim that the risk is exaggerated by "the enemy." Much like Donald Trump's incredibly uninformed claim that the virus will go away on its own! [Image] This Iranian cleric says that the dirt from Imam Hussein's burial place is a potent antibiotic. You have to consume it every 6 or 8 hours, though, much like a regular antibiotic. Stressed health workers in Iran's Kurdistan region try to remain in good spirits by dancing! Elsewhere, a group of Iranians criticize officials for directives against public gatherings, including for Friday prayers. They believe that the government is depriving citizens of the healing powers of the tombs of imams and other Shi'i figures.

2020/02/26 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Historic 1936 letter containing directives about the use of the newly-coined words 'behdaasht' and 'behdaari' Cartoon: And tonight, live from Washington, it's 'America's Funniest Conspiracy Theories' Recent Persian tweets about the coronavirus
New book on Leonardo da Vinci: 100 Milestones Meme asking Iranian mullahs to go to hospitals and use their devine aura to help cure coronavirus patients This is what karma looks like: Roger Stone and Hillary Clinton (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Historic document from Iran's Language Academy: This 1936 letter contains directives for the use of new Persian terms coined for the Arabic "hefz-ol-salheh" ("Behdaasht" = hygiene, health) and "sahiyeh" ("behdaari" = dispensary, public health bureau). [Top center] New Yorker cartoon: "And tonight, live from Washington, it's 'America's Funniest Conspiracy Theories'." [Top right] Recent Persian tweets about the coronavirus. [Bottom left] Leonardo da Vinci continues to awe and inspire: Five centuries after his death in May 1519, we are still learning about his contributions to art, science, and Technology. A new 224-page book picks 100 of da Vinci's works and presents them in rough chronological order to map the development of his interests and skills. [Bottom center] Meme asking Iranian mullahs to go to hospitals and use their devine aura to help cure coronavirus patients. [Bottom right] This is what karma looks like.
(2) Technology and coronavirus: Both South Korea and China are using phone apps that allow one to track where infected people have been, so that you can avoid the locations. In this video message (in Persian), a young Iranian woman living in China provides some useful information about the disease and describes the comprehensive measures taken in China to protect the citizens.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian health official tested positive for coronavirus a day after dismissing the severity of the outbreak.
- On-line courses get a boost: NYU Shanghai resumes educational activities by moving classes on-line.
- Existence of seismic activities on Mars ("Marsquakes") confirmed by NASA's InSight Lander.
- Beautiful, spring-like day (72F) for an early-morning walk on campus, before my first engagement on 2/25.
(4) Today's "World Music Series" noon concert at UCSB's Music Bowl: I considered skipping today's performance by the UCSB Gamelan Ensemble, because I have seen them many times before. But then, what else can beat being outdoors for an hour on this gorgeous 74-degree sunny day? [With apologies to friends dealing with icy conditions, blizzards, flooding, and the like!] [Photos] [Video]
(5) "Building Data-Driven Computers: Reimagining Systems to Reduce the High Costs of Large-Scale Data Processing": This was the title of yesterday's talk at UCSB by Dr. Saugata Ghose (Systems Scientist, ECE Dept, CMU; PhD Cornell U.), a faculty candidate for our Computer Engineering Program.
Many new computing applications are data-centric, spending a significant fraction of their time on accessing and processing very large datasets. Unfortunately, hardware platforms remain compute-centric, whose designs are rooted in decades-old principles for computer architectures. This mismatch results in inefficiencies, with significant energy waste and program stalls. Data-centric platforms can eliminate these inefficiencies, but require that we fundamentally rethink our approach to computer design.
Dr. Ghose's research is focused on developing practical data-centric architectures and systems, beginning with experimental characterization of the sources of energy-inefficiency and poor performance in existing architectures as they run modern applications, particularly the impact of current memory systems. After showing how breakthroughs in memory technologies have made near-data computing practical, Dr. Ghose outlined his efforts in developing programmer and architectural support for near-data computing, including efficient data coherence and domain-specific system design. [Sample slides]

2020/02/25 (Tuesday): Book review: Rush, Elizabeth, Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Milkweed Editions, 2018 (with an afterword written in 2019). [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
US and world maps showing the effects of sea-level rise Cover image of Elizabeth Rush's 'Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore' Graphs showing the extent of sea-level rise This book is the chosen title for "UCSB Reads 2020" program that encourages communal reading and discussion among the campus denizens and the community at large. I have incorporated the book into the curriculum of my graduate course on parallel processing during winter 2020, with a description of projects related to the theme of the book appearing on the ECE 254B page, under "Course Announcements" and "Homework Assignments." Specifically, the projects encourage and guide the students to explore the role of high-performance computing in running data- and compute-intensive models for the prediction of climate change and various other weather-related phenomena.
Rising consists of three parts, sandwiched between "The Password" and "Afterword," ending with 5 pages of acknowledgments and 31 pages of notes. The three parts are "Rampikes" (dead trees; 5 chapters), "Rhizomes" (horizontal underground plant stems capable of producing the shoot and root systems of a new plant; 6 chapters), and "Rising" (3 chapters).
A key message of Rush's book is that sea-level rise isn't just a problem for a distant future; it is already affecting US populations, as they migrate inland from our disintegrating shorelines. Rush provides first-hand accounts of how people's lives are affected in California, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island.
When we talk of sea-level rise, many of us imagine catastrophes of disappearing island nations and submerged coastal cities. But, even a much smaller amount of sea-level rise leads to the ocean water working its way into the aquifer, stunting the growth of trees and later killing many of them. And this begins a chain reaction in the ecosystem, given that of the 1400 endangered or threatened species in the US, over half are wetland-dependent [p. 6].
Since we began keeping records in 1880, global sea levels have risen about 9 inches (22 cm). At this rate, a rise of about 5 additional inches (12 cm) would be expected by 2100. But there is widespread agreement that sea-level rise is accelerating, leading to estimates of a rise from 24 to 84 inches (0.6-2.1 m) by the end of the century [p. 55].
Unfortunately, seashores are often densely populated. This is an unfortunate new development. Coastal areas used to be desolate, because swamp-borne diseases and natural disasters made them undesirable locations. Misguided federal flood insurance programs led to people migrating to and residing in such coastal areas in unprecedented numbers.
A pet peeve of mine about books of this ilk is that they do not make use of charts/graphs and maps (The only images in Rush's book are those of trees and marshes, one at the beginning of each chapter). The inclusion of at least one map would have been very natural, just to mark the locations around the US featured in the book (see the example US map above, showing migrations caused by a 6-foot rise in sea levels, and the world map depicting the distribution of sea-level rise over one decade). Comparative maps of coastlines and low-lying lands over the decades would have also been a welcome addition. The reader would get a much better sense of the accelerating sea-level rise from a graph covering a few decades or, preferably, the entire recorded history (see the examples above). Graphical representations of melting ice and other causes of sea-level rise would have also been helpful. There is no excuse for text-only communication in the age of multimedia.
Rush does an admirable job of showing us the human face of climate change. A family, with roots in one of the coastal areas enduring increasingly harsher storms that take a toll on its ancestral home, now in disrepair, with money not available to fix it, may eventually be forced to leave. People do move for various reasons, such as seeking better career opportunities, but being forced out of your home and abandoning a generations-long lifestyle is a different story. Viewed in macroeconomic terms, the migration of thousands or even millions of people, in a world with 7+ billion inhabitants, may seem insignificant, but emotions and sense of belonging cannot be measured only in economic terms.
It is also possible to go too far in the emotional direction, and Rush is guilty of this excess by portraying all change as bad. We humans can in fact deal with and control some aspects of environmental changes. It is critical to tackle climate-change problems from both prespectives: Devising policies that limit global warming and its consequences, and instigating changes in our communities to minimize the impact of those changes that we cannot prevent.

2020/02/24 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Sepandarmazgan, the ancient Persian festival celebrating women, love, friendship, and Earth! Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): NASA mathematician and inspiration behind 'Hidden Figures' dead at 101 A 5.7-magnitude quake hits the Iran-Turkey border region (1) Images of the day: [Left] Happy Sepandarmazgan, the ancient Persian festival celebrating women, love, friendship, and Earth! There are various opinions about the date of the festival, but Esfand 5 (February 24 in 2020) is the most-commonly cited. [Center] Katherine Johnson (1918-2020): NASA mathematician and inspiration behind "Hidden Figures" (book and movie) dead at 101. [Right] A 5.7-magnitude quake hits Iran & Turkey, killing 9 in Turkey's Van Province: There are no casualty or damage reports from Iran's East Azerbaijan region, but Iranian authorities are slow in assessing damage and in reporting bad news.
(2) I don't know, Donald, whether there is a law about this stuff: But since you claim to be the chief law enforcement officer of the country, you should know or should be able to find out through your lapdog at the Justice Department. Why do you throw the question at us? [Trump tweet]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Coronavirus hot spots outside China include South Korea, Iran (where schools/colleges are closed), and Italy.
- If relations between the US and India sour, Trump may start using the nickname "Midi Modi"! [Photos]
- Announcement of Harvey Weinstein's conviction on two charges, which will bring him 5-25 years in jail.
- Two 13-year-old boys charged with murder for starting a blaze that killed two firefighters at a CA library.
- Republicans salivate over Sanders becoming the Democratic nominee: Trump and Russia are promoting him.
- Cancer death rates dropped 29% from 1991 to 2016: Targeted therapies continue to work miracles.
- War crime: In 1992, Serbians torched a library with 2 million books, including rare, historical volumes.
- Quote: "You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choices." ~ Anonymous
(4) Google and Brexit: To avoid legal issues arising from Brexit, Google is moving its UK-based data, including those of Gmail, YouTube, and Android Play Store, from Ireland to the US.
(5) Europeans don't just pay less for healthcare (through taxes): They also get cheaper cell-phone service and better deals on many other products and services! [From: The Great Reversal: How America Gave Up on Free Markets, by Thomas Philippon (interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on Sunday 2/23)]
(6) US military branches request $17 billion in additional funding for items not included in their 2021 budgets: I hope Congress asks some tough question about how the already increased funding was allocated to projects, including billions diverted to Trump's border wall.
(7) In Iran, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, myths are spread about coronavirus, scaring and confusing people: A typical social-media post begins, "My brother/cousin/friend is a doctor who says ..." There is no mention of the doctor's name/specialty. And the poster often has a fake name. Be alert! [Persian tweet]

2020/02/23 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: First set of images CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: Second set of images CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: Third set of images
CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: Fourth set of images CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House: Event program Bloomberg is hitting Trump where it hurts by putting up attack banners in Nevada (1) Images of the day: [Top row, plus bottom left & center] Registration and breakfast at the 2/22 CA-AAUP conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House, followed by morning and afternoon activities and the event program (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Bloomberg is hitting Trump where it hurts: I don't like him as a candidate, but he is doing a useful service by exposing Trump's corruption and hypocrisy.
(2) Gutting the US intelligence agencies: Richard Grenell, the newly appointed US chief spy, has begun pushing people out at the agencies he controls, compromising our ability to confront Russia and other states hellbent on causing chaos in the US political and social structures.
(3) The 17th Annual Meeting of the California Conference of the AAUP (Saturday, February 22, 2020): Fifty-two UC, Cal State, community-college, and private-institution faculty members from across California attended yesterday's day-long conference at UCSB's Mosher Alumni House. Half of the attendees were first-time participants in AAUP events. The theme of the conference was "Restoring Faculty Leadership to Strengthen California Colleges and Universities," that is, taking shared governance (defined as faculty involvement in campus decision-making) more seriously. A rough count indicated than there were twice as many women participants as men, which is an indicator of women feeling a greater sense of responsibility in discussing injustices and rights.
Representatives of the striking UCSB graduate students were invited to make a statement at the outset. We then had a panel discussion, "Sharing Governance in Unionized and Non-Unionized Environments" (Chris Sinclair, U. Oregon United Academics President, Diane Klein, U. La Verne AAUP Chapter President, Kum-Kum Bhavnani, UC Academic Senate Chair, moderated by Steven Filling, CA-AAUP President-Elect), followed by breakout sessions and a plenary, where breakout-session reports were presented.
After lunch, we began with a panel discussion, "Sharing Governance among Faculty" (Julie Bruno, California Community Colleges Academic Senate Past President, Catherine Nelson, CSU Academic Senate Chair, Mia McIver, UC-AFT President, moderated by Claudio Fugo, CA-AAUP President), followed by breakout sessions and a plenary where best governance practices were presented and drafted. The conference concluded with a business meeting and consultation on steps forward.
A variety of schemes are used for shared governance, ranging from UC System's Academic Senate, via which faculty make recommendations regarding key decisions (although, typically, by the time the recommendation goes through several layers of administration at the campus and system-wide levels and, in many cases, all the way up to UC Regents, not much of the original recommendation survives) to less-participatory schemes at community colleges and private institutions.
One key difference across the diverse institutions of higher learning in California is the extent to which non-tenure-track, teaching, and adjunct faculty are given privileges to participate in campus decision-making. The multi-tiered systems of institutions (UC, CSU, CC) and faculty (tenured, non-tenured, full/part-time, adjunct) is detrimantal to teaching and learning environments. Paying certain faculty members by the hour, with restrictions on the number of reported hours to curtail benefits and/or overtime, leads to oppression and inequities.
The need for going back to the free-education model at state universities/colleges was brought up during informal discussions. A representative from a coalition advocating for student-debt cancellation and free education at state institutions attended the event, distributing flyers touting the macroeconomic impacts of such actions. It is unfortunate that universities are talking about "business models," much like corporations, rather than focusing on educational excellence and broadening participation. Deans and presidents of universities should not be viewed as bosses but as servants of faculty members.
One unfortunate byproduct of the "business model" view is an increasing reliance on adjunct and other temporary faculty members. The path forward is for faculty of all institutions across the state to collaborate and to look for initiatives that would benefit the state as a whole, rather than focusing on narrow objectives within a particular institution. The more vulnerable groups of faculty members must be protected with high priority. Equally important are measures to inhibit administrators from dividing the faculty and other teaching personnel (such as graduate-student workers, now striking for their demands).

2020/02/22 (Saturday): Trying to make a dent in my backlog of book reviews by offering three reviews.
Cover image for Michael Lewis's 'The Fifth Risk' Cover image for Cal Newport's 'Deep Work' Cover image for Lin-Manuel Miranda's 'Hamilton: The Revolution' (1) Book review: Lewis, Michael, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, W. W. Norton & Company, 2019.
[My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is composed of three parts (Tail Risk; People Risk; All the President's Data), sandwiched between "Prologue: Lost in Transition" and "Afterword: The Drift of Things." The book covers Trump administration's disasterous transition and personnel appointments. We learn, for example, that Chris Christie, heading the transition team, was repeatedly undermined by Trump, who believed that having a transition team was a waste of time and money.
Christie was eventually fired by Trump adviser Steve Bannon, leaving Trump to handle the transition (like everything else) all by himself. This led to severe understaffing, with many key defense, civil-administration, and ambassadorial positions left unfilled. Some nominees encountered confirmation snags, but for many other positions, no one was even nominated.
Things began to go south quickly, right after the election was called. Trump's campaign had not even bothered to prepare an acceptance speech, because everyone was certain he would lose. Mike Pence's wife, Karen, was bitter on election night, reportedly telling her husband, who approached to kiss her, "You got what you wanted ... now leave me alone."
Lewis pays particular attention to three cabinet Departments: Energy, Agriculture, and Commerce. Trump's people sent to take over at these Departments were utterly unqualified and unprepared. At the Department of Energy, for example, they had no idea that part of the portfolio is the management of the country's nuclear facilities and weapons. They summarily dismissed political appointees, only to learn later that some of them were indispensable. Many briefs, prepared by civil servants at various agencies went unheard by Trump's team.
The US government may be too bloated, as Trump often claims, but letting agencies die from neglect or, worse, appointing managers who abhor their agency or are opposed to its core mission, isn't a responsible way of instituting reforms. Trump's approach to cutting government to size is a dream come true for right-wing authoritarians like Steve Bannon and for enemies of functioning democracies such as Vladimir Putin.
(2) Book review: Newport, Cal, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, unabridged MP3 audiobook, Grand Central Publishing, 2016. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
We are all distracted by electronic communication coming our way at dizzying speed. Newport believes that we need at least 4-5 hours of undistracted time during the day to do our best work, whether it is developing compelling computer programs or writing best-selling or critically-acclaimed novels.
Newport does have a point. We all turn off e-mail and Facebook when we have to write an important report or paper, or anything else that needs concentration and deep thinking. Because we can't completely turn off social interactions for extended periods of time, striking a balance is the key. An important method suggested by Newport is to plan your day around the deep work you have to do, with unavoidable shallow activities (e-mail, social media, etc.) batched into small bursts at the periphery of your schedule.
While it is true that interruptions (e-mail notifications, instant messages, and the like) take a toll on our productivity (as confirmed by the recently-studied context-switching overhead), there are others who believe we have no choice but to accommodate features of new technology, even if it means reduced productivity. Many old-school organizations now encourage their workers to maintain an active presence on Twitter and other social media, because such a presence is the price of doing business in the modern world. While it is true that writing short tweets takes time away for in-depth reporting in the case of journalists, the two modes must be combined.
There are more organizations today that embrace open work spaces and instant-message communication, which encourage interation (thus increasing interruptions) than those who provide private work spaces. In many workplaces, one does not have the luxury of disconnecting or not answering the phone. So, while Newport's recommendations should be taken into account, each person should find his/her personal balance between social engagement and deep work.
(3) Book review: Miranda, Lin-Manuel and Jeremy McCarter, Hamilton: The Revolution, unabridged audiobook, read by the authors and Mariska Hargitay, Hachette Audio, 2016.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
This book is the story of two revolutions: The American Revolution, featuring a poor kid from the Caribbean alongside other Founders, and a musical revolution, which fused hip-hop, pop, and R&B to enrich broadway traditions. The book tells us about how Miranda's ideas, and McCarter's support from the get-go, helped transform an unlikely performance at the White House to a Broadway phenomenon six years later.
New York City is an important backdrop for the musical. According to the authors, Hamilton is the story of 18th-century New York, as told by today's New Yorkers.
People who have read the paper copy of the book deem turning its pages, viewing photographs and images of notebook pages (with early drafts and outlines), and examining a fully-annotated libretto of the musical show a "sensory experience." These elements are included as a PDF file in the audiobook.

2020/02/21 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy International Mother Language Day! Cartoon of the day: Billionnaires Trump and Bloomberg battling over who is bigger! Iranian architecture: Tomb of the poet Kamalolmolk in Naishabour, Khorasan Province (1) Images of the day: [Left] Celebrating world languages and their cultural significance: Happy International Mother Language Day! [Center] Cartoon of the day: Billionnaires Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg battling over who is bigger! [Right] Iranian architecture: Tomb of the poet Kamalolmolk in Naishabour (also known in English as Neishapour), Khorasan Province, with the domed tomb of Attar seen in the background.
(2) Sacrificing citizens' lives for scoring political points: Iranian authorities criticized for hiding the spread of coronavirus in the country so as not to hurt the election turnout. [Persian tweet]
(3) Quote of the day: "Understandable, he can't read." ~ Distributor of the film "Parasite," in Korean with English subtitles, responding to Trump's criticism of the film's best-picture Oscar
(4) "We Are All Connected": A song formed from the spoken words of science explainers Neil deGresse Tyson, Richard Fynman (who also plays the drums), Carl Sagan, and Bill Nye. [Same video, with Persian subtitles]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Racist German kills 9 and injures 6 in immigrant neighborhoods: He is found dead along with his mother.
- New form of racism in the US: Hostility toward Asian college students in the wake of coronavirus outbreak.
- "Analog Supercomputers: From Quantum Atom to Living Body": TEDx talk by Dr. Rahul Sarpeshkar.
- Women in STEM: Misguided theory of why women don't go into STEM fields gets a 1113-word correction.
- Fascinating details of engineering design and construction methods for building Persepolis 2500 years ago.
- Persian music: Darvish Khan's "Reng-e Parichehr o Parizad" (recorded live in Toronto). [2-minute video]
(6) "Reverse Engineering Neural Computations": This was the title of today's technical talk at UCSB by Dr. Nabil Imam (Sr. Research Scientist, Intel; PhD Cornell U.), a faculty candidate for our Computer Engineering Program. Neuroscience is meeting computing in exciting ways, opening up new possibilities for both disciplines. Dr. Imam described the reverse-engineering of biological neural computations in two of the most prominent neuromorphic systems built this past decade: IBM's TrueNorth and Intel's Loihi. These systems leverage digital models of neurons and synapses, colocalized memory and compute, and sparse, event-driven communications to support massively parallel architectures for real-time energy-efficient neural computations. Examples discussed by Dr. Imam included the derivation of neural algorithms from the circuit-level organization of the mammalian olfactory system and the hippocampus, that leverage spike-timing-based mechanisms of coding and computation to realize new functional capabilities. [Some slides]

2020/02/20 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Great day in Harlem: Original photo from 1958 and photo of the survivors in 1996 My paternal grandparents, with some of their children, ~90 years ago My former doctoral student, and frequent recent co-author on technical papers, honored with a Khwarizmi International Award in Iran. Congrats! (1) Images of the day: [Left] Great day in Harlem: Original photo from 1958 and photo of survivors in 1996. [Center] My paternal grandparents, with some of their children, ~90 years ago. [Right] My former doctoral student, and frequent co-author on technical papers, honored with a Khwarizmi International Award in Iran.
(2) Law professor and activist Dr. Anita Hill spoke to a sold-out crowd at UCSB's Campbell Hall last night, 25 years after her previous appearance and talk to another sold-out crowd. [Image]
(3) Roger Stone sentenced to 40 months in prison: This is the seventh conviction resulting from the Mueller probe (definitely not a witch hunt). Most importantly, Stone is the closest Trump ally/friend to serve jail time.
(4) The so-called "corruption fighter" just pardoned a bunch of corrupt-to-the-core white-collar criminals and is exerting pressure on the Justice Department to go easy on a bunch of others. He is trying to set a precedent for when he and his corrupt family are prosecuted.
(5) "Emerging Architectures for Humanity's Grand Challenges": This was the title of today's technical talk by Dr. Yipeng Huang (Post-doc at Princeton; PhD Columbia U.), a faculty candidate for our Computer Engineering Program. The end of Moore's-law scaling has triggered the examination of alternative computation models, which include analog and quantum computing. Among challenges we face with these new models is connecting them to conventional architectures, and in helping to facilitate their correct usage by programmers.
In the first part of his talk, Dr. Huang discussed how problems associated with the step-by-step updating of variables in all-digital machines are avoided by continuously-evolving variables in the analog model of computation. Dr. Huang then discussed two strategies for exploiting strengths of the analog model (speed and energy efficiency), while avoiding its limited-precision pitfall. In one strategy, analog approximations are obtained quickly, which are then refined via digital computation. In another strategy, digital computation is used to break down large problems into smaller ones that are suitable for analog processing.
In the second part of his talk, Dr. Huang focused on helping programmers debug and simulate quantum computer algorithms. As more capable quantum computer prototypes become available, students and researchers need guidelines and tools for debugging and testing quantum programs. His work discusses what quantum bugs are, how statistical tests may find them, and how programmers can write assertions to more effectively bring up quantum programs. [A few slides]

2020/02/19 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Noon concert: Reshma Srivastava played Indian classical music on sitar, much of it improvised, with tabla accompaniment Meme of the day: Wondering which of Khamenei's relatives to vote for in the upcoming elections! Cartoon: 'Based on Internet advertising dollars, both Michael Bloomberg and the Shen Yun dancers qualified to participate in the debate' (1) Images of the day: [Left] "World Music Series" noon concert at UCSB's Karl Geiringer Hall: Guest artist Reshma Srivastava played Indian classical music on sitar, with tabla accompaniment. (Video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3) (Video 4) [Center] Meme of the day (for Persian speakers): Wondering which of Khamenei's relatives to vote for in the upcoming elections! [Right] New Yorker cartoon of the day: "Based on Internet advertising dollars, both Michael Bloomberg and the Shen Yun dancers qualified to participate in the debate."
(2) Eight environmental activists in Iran sentenced to a total of 58 years in prison: Here is a dictatorial regime that has no tolerance for dissent, even if it is in the area of environmental policies.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Side-by-side comparison: Trump's and Obama's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast.
- The myth that Trump is creating unprecedented numbers of new jobs, busted by data. [Chart]
- Grad students unite across the UC system to demand a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their pay.
- Today's young men embrace gender equality, but they still don't vacuum.
(4) Michael Bloomberg is toast: His stiff, unprepared appearance at the Democratic debate of 2/19 made it clear that all the money he has spent and will be spending in the coming weeks would have been better used to support one of the other candidates to improve his/her chances of beating Donald Trump. The country no longer has an appetite for men who call women fat broads, characterize their remark as a joke when it gets them into trouble, settle lawsuits with non-disclosure agreements, consider their tax returns too complex for public release, and are out of touch with the problems of working and middle classes.
(5) IEEE Central Coast Section tech talk: The speaker for our February 19, 2020, technical talk, "Compression of Everything," was Dr. Jerry Gibson, UCSB Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, and author of multiple text/reference books (PhD, SMU, 1973; MS, SMU, 1971; BS, UT Austin, 1969). Dr. Gibson's other honors and awards, details of which can be found on the IEEE CCS event page and his home page include service on editorial boards of two IEEE Transactions, Distinguished Lectureship for IEEE Communications Society, and multiple technical-achievement and best-paper awards.
As the talk's title suggests, compression is widely used. Our cell phones and other electronic devices contain sophisticated, continually-improving compression and decompression facilities that allow us to store and transmit ever-larger volumes of data. As storage capacities, processing power, and communication bandwidth continue their exponential growths, with multi-terabyte personal storage devices and the dawn of 5G communication, our appetite for more photos, higher-quality videos, and all things digital grows correspondingly, making compression as essential today as it was in the days of 2G and its predecssors.
Compression, defined as the representation of a signal in digital form with as few bits as possible while retaining the quality required for the given application, is largely hidden behind the physical and network distribution layers. The technologies used for voice, audio, still images, and video all differ but broadly consist of time or frequency domain decompositions, quantization, and lossless coding. Dr. Gibson began his talk by establishing the need for compression and them proceeded to provide details of the surprisingly complicated compression methods, with particular emphasis on the signal processing required. Developing compression applications for biological signals such as EEG, ECG, and EMG were also discussed.
[Photos] [Tweet] [Speaker's PDF slides (link forthcoming)] [Schedule of IEEE CCS Technical Talks]

2020/02/18 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for Farhang Foundation's Norooz (Nowruz) celebration at UCLA on March 8, 2020 Cover image of Newsweek magazine about green growth The 1950s Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab for children included four small jars of actual uranium (1) Images of the day: [Left] Norooz (Nowruz) celebration at UCLA: Farhang Foundation's annual observation of the Persian new year will be held at UCLA's Royce Hall and the adjacent Dickson Court on Sunday, March 8, 2020, 12:00-5:00 PM. [Center] Green growth: Newsweek magazine cover feature promotes the idea that growth and taking better care of our planet are not mutually exclusive. [Right] Fun with uranium: The Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab from the 1950s included four small jars of actual uranium. Children, the intended users, were warned not to take the ore out of the jars, because the background radiation would mess up the experimental results: No mention of health risks! (Credit: IEEE Spectrum, issue of February 2020)
(2) Shame on the Islamic Republic of Iran: Bahareh Hedayat is just one of the women activists languishing in Iranian prisons, for demanding human rights and abolition of misogynistic laws. There are an alarmingly large number of women prisoners, who are severely mistreated and threatened with physical and sexual violence.
(3) 'Tis the season for faculty hiring: I am headed into a month of intense seminar attendance, as we try to fill multiple faculty positions in computer engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science. The following two entries begin the seminar reports.
(4) "Modeling and Optimization for Customized Computing": This was the title of today's talk by Dr. Peipei Zhou, Research Scientist at Shanghai Enflame Technology (AI chip start-up), a faculty candidate for our Computer Engineering Program. She described her PhD research at UCLA, which dealt with highly-optimized FPGA-based designs for accelerating a wide range of applications with several orders of magnitude gain in performance and energy efficiency over general-purpose processors. Her work targeted design optimization at chip, node, and cluster level. [Sample slides]
(5) "Programming Molecular Energy Landscapes for Precise Placement and Robust Computation": This was the title of today's talk by Dr. Chris Thachuk (Caltech Post-doc), a faculty candidate for our Computer Engineering Program. He described his work on a molecular FPGA-like structure, in which both the breadboard and the components on it self-assemble. The molecular breadboards then self-align to complete the implementation process. Whereas computation with DNA and other molecules isn't new, previous approaches required custom design for each function of interest. Dr. Thachuk described two different projects that allow a scalable and more flexible synthesis approach.
The first project, DNA origami, represents a successful example of self-assembly driven by molecular forces. This process can result in the assembly of ~10^10 copies of a designed 2D or 3D shape, with feature resolution of 6 nanometers. Designing the energy landscape of the interaction between a DNA origami shape and a flat surface demonstrates that single molecules can be placed with orientation that is absolute (all degrees of freedom specified) and arbitrary (every molecule's orientation is independently specified). Because robustness improves exponentially with redundancy, a moderate level of replication is all that's needed.
The second project addresses the design difficulty and error-proneness of molecular computing structures. A compiler has been developed that takes as input a logic description (truth table or gate-circuit) and provides as output the optimized set of breadboard components necessary to produce the desired logic behavior. By mixing these pre-existing components as prescribed, it is possible to achieve fast, autonomous and robust molecular circuits, from conception to implementation, within a single afternoon, rather than in weeks. [Sample slides]

2020/02/17 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Presidents' Day: Photo of Mount Rushmore Quote: Eleanor Roosevelt on Liberalism Happy Presidents' Day: Signing of the Civil Rights Act (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Happy Presidents' Day! Let's celebrate all the great ones and their wonderful deeds, from abolition of slavery, through leadership in trying social/economic times, to signing of the Civil Rights Act. [Center] Liberal and liberalism (derive from "free"): Wear the labels proudly, as the current assault on freedom and move toward oligarchy will not survive the 2020s. Hats off to Eleanor Roosevelt!
(2) "Pot hotter than pottage": This Persian saying is apt description of Iran's withdrawal from a friendly match between the women's soccer teams of Iran and Palestine, because the match was being held in Israel!
(3) Women's status in the Islamic Republic of Iran: Sociologist Dr. Nayereh Tohidi and journalist Homa Sarshar discuss the status of women, 41 years after the Islamic Revolution. [20-minute video]
(4) "Trapped in Iran": Reporter Nicolas Pelham writes about spending the summer of 2019 as a guest of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, being detained as he was about to leave the country.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Trump attends the wedding of Stephen Miller, his racist adviser: Thoughts and prayers for the bride!
- Some 1100 former DOJ officials call on AG William Barr to resign over interference in Roger Stone case.
- AG William Barr sought to block the indictment of a Turkish bank, after autocrat Erdogan pled with Trump.
- Father helps daughter by making her laugh whenever they hear the sound of fighter jets attacking Idlib.
- Humorous Persian poetry: Mr. Haloo recites two of his short poems about elections in Iran. [2-minute video]
- Piano Boys featured in EDHAT SB: Article with videos of a recent concert by Zeyn and Rhyan Shweyk.
(6) Iran's 1917-1919 famine: Did you know that Iran was the country with most deaths during World War I? Persia, as the country was known then, remained neutral in the WW I, but Britain occupied it anyway and confiscated foodstuff and other resources, which, combined with an ongoing drought and several epidemics, led to the starvation of millions (estimates range from 2 million to 9 million, the latter figure, widely considered an exaggeration, corresponding to half of the total population at the time).
(7) A History of Science in 20 Objects: This is the title of an article in E&T magazine. Scientific endeavors create memorable objects, 20 of which are selected as the focus of a new book. You may not agree with the selections or their heavy focus on modern times, but looking at them is instructive nonetheless.

2020/02/16 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Glory ... Stock markets are up! America's great again! Arab media's depiction of Iranians going through dumpsters in search of something to eat, while living atop barrels of oil Cartoon: Like other belongings, you can't take your to-do list with you! (1) Cartoons of the day: [Left] Glory ... Stock markets are up! America's great again! [Center] Sad days for Iran: Arab media's depiction of Iranians going through dumpsters in search of something to eat, while living atop barrels of oil. [Right] You can't take them with you: This is often said of money and other belongings, but it also applies to your to-do list. So, get busy doing things! (Credit: New Yorker)
(2) Traditional Persian music: "Chahar-Mezraab-e Mahoor," composed by Gholam Hossein Darvish Khan, with Mohammad-Reza Lotfi on setar and Naser Farhangfar on tonbak. [4-minute video]
(3) A wonderful animated short film: "The making of 'The Sixth String'," Bahram Azimi's 10-minute animated short film about how a sixth string came to be added to a Persian musical instrument. [5-minute video]
(4) If George Washington lived today: "I did not even know the cherry tree. May have taken a picture with it, but then I have pictures with everyone and everything. And even if I did cut the tree, it was for the good of the country and completely within my authority. Liberal hacks are trying to question my honesty."
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- UCLA Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran: UC Irvine Anthropologist Dr. Roxanne Varzi's "Tehran Tourist."
- Restaurants are offering cheap lobster specials, due to a drop in world demand, particularly from China.
- Kyle's Protein Grill, in Goleta's Hollister Village, offers meat-less dishes, such as meatballs and steak.
- Persian poetry: Yadollah Taremi's poem for his mom, written/recited in the Shirazi dialect of Persian. [Video]
(6) "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people": I composed a Persian poem exactly 10 years ago in a fit of rage, resulting from the vile poem in the green image, appearing on a banner in Tehran. That poem instructs women on how to behave and what types of clothes to wear.
(7) The 28th anniversary of my father's passing at age 70: Today, my family commemorated his passing and celebrated his life at Santa Barbara Cemetery. Here is a wonderful poem entitled "Father," from Delights & Shadows, by Ted Kooser, Copper Canyon Press, 2004. My own father would have been 98 today, and he passed away 28 years ago, not 20. My loose Persian translation of the poem follows the English original. [Photos]

2020/02/14 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos of me and two heart-shaped openings in nature Newspaper front page, announcing the death of poet Forough Farrokhzad, 53 years ago Cartoon: One way to celebrate Valentine's Day!
Hotel 1001 Nights going up in Tehran Unprecedented snowfall in western and northern Iran, Photo 1 Unprecedented snowfall in western and northern Iran, Photo 2 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Happy Valentine's Day, the day when many people celebrate romantic love, while others include all manifestations of love, including those between family members and friends! (Tweet by Tim Cook, aka Tim Apple) [Top center] Anniversary of Forough Farrokhzad's passing: She perished in a car crash on February 13, 1967 (Bahman 24, 1345; 53 years ago) at age 32, yet, despite her tragically-short life, she left us with an invaluable treasure of poems and other works of art. RIP! [Top right] One way to celebrate Valentine's Day! [Botton left] Hotel 1001 Nights going up in Tehran. [Bottom center & right] Unprecedented snowfall in western and northern Iran: Streets of Khalkhal, Ardebil Province, and an 8-meter wall of snow.
(2) Carl Sagan's mind-opening reflections on the famous pale-blue-dot image of Earth, snapped 30 years ago by Voyager-1, on its way out of our Solar System: Read by Neil deGrasse Tyson in this 3-minute video.
(3) When will the wrong-way driver taking America toward a catastrophic crash realize that it is he, not the Democrats voting to impeach him, nor Republicans like Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Jim Mattis, John Bolton, Mitt Romney, and myriad others criticizing him, who is headed the wrong way?
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- The doctor who assaulted Andrew Yang's wife is accused by dozens of other women of sexual assault.
- Days after being awarded the Medal of Freedom, Rush Limbaugh mocks Buttigieg for kissing his husband.
- American televangelist and Trump supporter Jim Bakker sells an anti-coronavirus liquid at $300 a bottle.
- In the kitchen tonight: My Valentine's Day dinner and a large pot of pasta for the week ahead. [Photos]
(5) Racist activity by White Supremacists on US college campuses reached an all-time high last year, more than doubling in number of reported instances (from 1214 in 2018, to 2713 in 2019).
(6) Qassem Soleimani's final interview contains his manifesto: Total deference to Khamanei, no regard for other government figures. This 11-page PDF file (in Persian) contains Soleimani's will, in which unconditional surrender to the Islamic Leader is the focus. Even where he writes about Iran and Iranians, it is in connection with, and in service to, Islam. He was no nationalist hero, as the Iranian regime is trying to make him.

2020/02/13 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Galentine's Day! Cover images of Iran's 'Kayhan for Kids<' magazine: Before and after the Islamic Revolution Iranian boy holding a sign that reads: 'We are future Ghasem Soleimanis. We kill the Jews' (1) Images of the day: [Left] "Sistas before Mistas": February 13, the day before Valentine's Day, is designated as Galentine's Day, to allow women to celebrate their female friendships. Designation of February 15 as Guylantine Day can't be far behind (Mistas after Sistas)! [Center] Cover images of Iran's Kayhan for Kids magazine: Before the Islamic Revolution, on the right, happy themes and fantasy were emphasized; after the Revolution, the focus shifted to piety and religious indoctrination. [Right] Teaching Iranian kids to hate all 'outsiders,' Jews and Baha'is, in particular: The sign held by the young boy reads, in part, "We are future Ghasem Soleimanis. We kill the Jews" (image credit: Iranwire.com).
(2) Tremendous fraud: Days after saying in his SOTU Address that he won't touch Social Security or Medicare, Trump revealed a budget that makes deep cuts to both and to other social safety nets. He accidentally told the truth that his administration is "doing a lot of things that are good, including waste and fraud."
(3) Green growth: Environmentalists are often faulted with advocating for economic disruption to avoid climate catastrophe. According to Andrew McAfee of MIT, America's shrinking carbon footprint amidst the longest economic boom in history suggests that prosperity and taking care of our planet aren't mutually exclusive.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- US Senate votes 55-45 to limit Trump's use of military force without Congressional approval.
- Four members of the Chinese military charged in the Equifax data breach involving half of all Americans.
- AG William Barr says that Trump should stop tweeting about DOJ criminal cases. He may be toast!
- Iran threatens to strike Israel and the US if they make the "slightest error."
(5) Alexa, What's Amazon Up to on State Street? This is the clever headline of a story in Santa Barbara Independent about Amazon's plans for its new location in Downtown Santa Barbara. An as-yet-unnamed restaurant on the ground floor, lectures and community events in their seminar room, and, possibly, a pick-up/return location are in the works.
(6) Fake news from right-wingers: Trumpists, who have turned a blind eye on the flagrant nepotism in the Trump administration, which has given top-level adviser positions to Ivanka and Jared (who couldn't even get legitimate security clearances), or have conspired to deflect attention from it, are spreading memes alleging that, besides Hunter Biden, the sons of several prominent Democrats have high-paying jobs with Ukranian-linked energy companies. Here is what Snopes.com has to say. Not that it will make the claims go away!
(7) AG Bill Barr's complaint about Trump tweets making it impossible for him to do his job reminds me of Mehdi Bazargan, the first PM of post-revolutionary Iran, who used to say that Khomeini issuing orders over his head made it impossible for his government to function properly. Bazargan was forced to resign in short order!

2020/02/12 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
'Dawn of the Rooster' opera, performed at UCSB on February 12, 2020: Photo 4 'Dawn of the Rooster' opera, performed at UCSB on February 12, 2020: Photo 1 'Dawn of the Rooster' opera, performed at UCSB on February 12, 2020: Photo 3 (1) Images of the day: Today's "World Music Series" noon concert: Doctoral student Tanyaradzwa Tawengwa collaborated with UCSB students to perform "The Dawn of the Rooster," an opera she composed to tell the story of her family during Zimbabwe's liberation struggle. The concert was held in Karl Geiringer Hall, instead of the usual Music Bowl, likely for better acoustics. (Video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3)
(2) Fired ambassador honored: Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch receives a prestigious award. She will be given the 2020 Trainor Award by Georgetown University, joining previous honorees Madeleine Albright, Ernest Moniz, and Kofi Annan.
(3) John Kelly can no longer hide his contempt for Trump: The former White House Chief of Staff explains his misgivings in clearest terms to date. Unfortunately for him, some stains are difficult to wash off.
(4) One day soon, a Khamenei crony will propose the title "Islamophile Imam of Imams" (mimicking the Shah's "Aryaphile King of Kings") for him and suggest that the Islamic lunar calendar become Iran's official calendar!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Four DOJ prosecutors quit after superiors over-ruled their 7-9 years of prison term for Roger Stone.
- The Goleta, CA, couple tragically killed by a drunk driver on Sunday, shown with their 4 children. [Photo]
- Papers of former UCSB professor Jonathan Pruitt withdrawn or examined for data fabrication.
- Persian tweets about dietary habits in Southeast Asia and their connection to the spread of coronavirus.
- Tweet from an Iranian stuck in traffic on a snow-covered road for 24 hours, with no sign of assistance.
- Iranian folk music: Wonderful rendition of "Gol-e Pamchal" from Guilan Province by Rastak Ensemble.
- Persian music: A wonderful rendition of Mohammad Nouri's "Ey Iran." [6-minute video]
(6) A huge iceberg three times the size of San Francisco broke off an endangered glacier in Antarctica. The glacier, if it completely breaks away, will raise global sea levels by 4 feet (1.2 m).
(7) Honoring Soleiman Haim: Growing up in Iran, I made heavy use of volumes of Haim's English-Persian and Persian-English dictionaries, which we had at home. Haim, a wordmaster, artist, and scholar, pioneered these and other dictionaries and also published a collection of Persian proverbs, beginning in 1929. I planned to attend a special ceremony in Los Angeles honoring Haim on the 50th anniversary of his passing on Sunday, February 2, 2020, but had to cancel at the last minute. I was delighted to learn that the ceremony has been recorded in full. Here is the link to the 124-minute video.
(8) Persian music and poetry: Koorosh Yazdani performs his own composition based on the poem "Ba'd-haa" ("Later On") by Forough Farrokhzad, the beloved poet who died in a car crash at age 32. [7-minute video]

2020/02/11 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump, shown with a stark tan line on his face Meme: Cost increases vs. pay raises (more meaningful indicators that the stock market and GDP Cartoon: Brexit (1) Images of the day: [Left] This photo of Trump, taken on Feb. 7, 2020, on the White House South Lawn, has gone viral because of its stark tan line. It would make a nice magazine cover! [Center] Yes, "It's the economy, stupid": But, please use relevant economic indicators, not the phony stock market and GDP! [Right] Brexit.
(2) Talk about being out of touch: Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei asks Iranians who have fled the country to return home and embrace their prescribed punishment, be it jail time or execution, to save themselves from eternal torment!
(3) Following in the footsteps of Russia (a proposal for the infliltration of Iranian agents into Western societies): Hassan Rahimpour Azghadi, Member of Iran's Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, speaking on an Ofogh TV program dated January 23, 2020, says that Iran should take advantage of deep economic, social, and racial divisions within the US and elsewhere to sow discord and help bring about their collapse. Young Iranian men should move to the West, get married there, and do cultural work to initiate gorilla warfare against the governments. This is what Britain did with Australia, except that they sent their felons not their best people.
(4) New Hampshire is shaping the Democratic race for president: Biden is getting the beating he deserves for his uninspiring campaign. Sanders and Buttigieg are in a nail-biter at the top. The old experienced guy appeals to young and poor voters, while the young newcomer is attracting older and affluent voters. Warren is in a distant 4th place after Klobuchar in 3rd place.
(5) "Impeachment in Historical Perspective": This afternoon, three UCSB historians spoke in a well-attended 2-hour session that was quite timely and informative.
Professor Giuliana Perrone discussed the impeachment and Senate trial of Andrew Johnson, an accidental President who rose to power upon the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Not a Republican, Johnson was put on the ticket to increase Lincoln's chances of being elected. Congress had serious disagreements with him over Reconstruction. In particular, the Republicans wanted to use the Army for Reconstruction, so they needed Johnson's blessings as Commander-in-Chief. Congress passed an act that it knew Johnson would violate, so Johnson's impeachment was essentially a case of entrapment. Eventually, the removal attempt failed by a 1-vote margin. Johnson was essentially impeached over violating a minor act of Congress, but his immensely more-important crime was depriving 4 million Americans of their rights. Johnson and Trump have a lot in common. Both were/are paranoid, imagining all sorts of conspiracies against them. The stakes are high now, as they were at the time of Johnson.
Professor Laura Kalman (who happens to be my across-the-street neighbor) focused on Richard Nixon's Watergate scandal and the impeachment and Senate trial of Bill Clinton. Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate Hotel break-in attempt and discovery of tape-recordings that constituted the "smoking gun" for the crime of covering up his wrongdoings, remains the only case of a US president being "removed" for the ill-defined "high crimes and misdemeanors." The case of Bill Clinton was completely different. It was simultaneously petty, involving private behavior rather than abuse of power, and quite serious, because it involved an actual crime (perjury). Professor Kalman made extensive use of slides bearing cartoons, news reports, and legal documents to make her points. I have included some of her slides, that tell much of the story of the Nixon and Clinton impeachments, in the accompanying images.
Professor Salim Yaqub spoke on presidential impeachments in the context of US foreign policy. One aspect of Nixon's troubles was his desire for secrecy in foreign policy. Nixon's love of secrecy even pervaded the conduct of the Vietnam War, where he initiated bombing campaigns in the neighboring Laos and Cambodia to deter the use of those countries for moving arms and personnel to South Vietnam. Nixon spied on his opponents and even members of his own party. The Pentagon Papers do not pertain to the Nixon administration, but they did make him nervous about the prospects of his own secret actions being exposed. This desire for secrecy was the root of Watergate. Nixon's removal could have been disruptive to foreign policy amid much turmoil in the world, but given the confidence lawmakers and others had in the ability of the seasoned Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to help Gerald Ford carry out foreign policy, there ware fewer reservations about the act of removing Nixon from office. In the case of Clinton, a bombing campaign, begun days before his impeachment inquiry, became known as "Wag the Dog" war, borrowing the term from a movie of the same name.
One take-away from this presentation is that we should strive to define "high crimes and midemeanors" more precisely, before the next impeachment case arises. Interestingly, the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" was a last-minute replacement for "maladministration," in order to satisfy all the signatories of the US Constitution. Other than the four cases named above, impeachment was considered in the cases of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, for the Iran-Contra scandal and staring the Iraq War under false pretenses, but the efforts were abandoned.
I have tried to touch upon some interesting points, but my report doesn't do justice to the wide range of observations and insightful commentary presented by my history colleagues. A big thanks to all three of them!

2020/02/10 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos: Sunsets, on Mars and Earth Cover of 'New York Daily News': The GOP Father Iranian architectural marvel: Tehran's Museum of Time, where antique timepieces are displayed (1) Images of the day: [Left] Sunsets, on Mars and Earth: Blue on the Red Planet, red on the Blue Planet! (Credit: Tweet by Firouz M. Naderi) [Center] An apt name for the Trump-family boss and GOP's puppet-master: The GOP Father. [Right] Iranian architectural marvel: Tehran's Museum of Time, home of antique timepieces.
(2) Islamization of education continues in Iran: Changes in high school math textbooks, including removal of integrals "to make room for other life skills," is now officially linked to explicit directions from Supreme Leader Khamenei to take the Islamic Revolution into its "second phase."
(3) A 3D-printed object: I chose this object from the Thingiverse.com database and had it printed by the Goleta Valley Public Library as a perk of attending a 3D-printer demo on February 3. [Print time: 3:15 hours]
(4) Cruise to hell: The number of coronavirus cases on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan reaches 135.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- China built a massive hospital in 8 days to fight the coronavirus. [The number of deaths is now 800+]
- Manhunt for soldier who massacred 26 in a crowded Thailand shopping mall ends with his being killed.
- Get to know the latest awardee of the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Rush Limbaugh, in his own words.
- Learn about "hangxiety" and dozens more recently-named feelings.
- Quote of the day: "Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it." ~ Confucius
- On the misogyny of some Iranian women and boycotting the upcoming elections. [Tweets, in Persian]
- Nostalgia: Clip from an Iranian TV program of 60+ years ago. ["Ya Mustafa" was quite popular in Iran]
(6) Persian music and dance: Three restaurants in Tehran, Iran, have been closed and their owners arrested for allowing mixed dancing on their premises. Watch for the diversity of people dancing in the video.
(7) This is Cher on network TV, in 1989: Apparently, evangelicals, who are suddenly offended by Shakira's and J. Lo's Super Bowl LIV halftime performance, have been asleep over the past three decades! [Photo]
(8) Heartbreaking: A Santa Barbara couple walking on Sunday evening were killed by a drunk driver who went off the road and continued for 100 yards along a bike path before hitting them. Mary Jane and Adolfo Corral are survived by four children aged 10-20.

2020/02/09 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB faculty panel discussing climate change at the Goleta Valley Public Library Donald Trump Jr. accidentally told the truth when he compared his dad's acquittal to O.J.'s in a tweet. Cartoon: Image from the book 'Lord of the GOP'!
Dr. Narges Bajoghli speaking at UCLA on Sunday, February 9, 2020 Flyer for the UCLA talk of Dr. Narges Bajoghli Happy US National Pizza Day! (1) Images of the day: [Top left] A UCSB Faculty Panel discussed climate change at the Goleta Valley Public Library (see the next item below). [Top center] Donald Trump Jr. accidentally told the truth when he compared his dad's acquittal to O.J.'s in a tweet. [Top right] Cartoon of the day: Image from the book Lord of the GOP! [Bottom left & center] Talk about Iran at UCLA (see the last item below). [Bottom right] Pi Day is on 3/14, but February 9 is pie day of a different kind: Happy US National Pizza Day!
(2) UCSB faculty panel at Goleta Valley Public Library on Saturday, February 8, 2020: Seated from left to right were Kathy Patterson (Writing Program), Sarah Anderson (Bren School, Political Science), Andrew Plantinga (Bren School, Economics), Eckart Meiburg (Mechanical Engineering), and Monique Myers (Marine Science Institute). They discussed Elizabeth Rush's Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, the 2020 selection for the "UCSB Reads" program. Many perspectives on the sea-level-rise problem, and climate change more generally, were presented, ranging from engineering/modeling aspects to policy issues. Rush's writing, and her putting a human face on the problem through telling compelling stories, were praised, but there were also criticisms of her inattention to the science behind sea level rise and portraying all change as bad, whereas humans can in fact deal with and control some aspects of environmental changes.
(3) Los Angeles premiere of "The Manic Monologues": Produced by Zachary Burton and directed by Elisa Hofmeister, Stanford University students who co-founded the initiative that turned mental health challenges into art, this powerful play presents in two acts (16 different stories) the struggles of those who have dealt or are dealing with various forms of mental illness. Described by NPR as "The mental illness version of 'The Vagina Monologues'," the stories are written by people in various age group and performed by actors on stage. In two cases, the writer was also the performer, making the presentations extremely touching. The stories are effective and eye-opening, revealing much struggle and pain, but also humor, triumph, and joy. [Program]
(4) UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: Today, Dr. Narges Bajoghli (Middle East Studies, Johns Hopkins U.) spoke in Persian under the title "Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic," based on a book by the same title (UCLA, 121 Dodd Hall, 4:00 PM). Tomorrow, Monday 2/10, Dr. Bajoghli will deliver the same lecture in English (UCLA 10383 Bunche Hall, 2:00 PM). In addition to the aforementioned book and other scholarly writings, Dr. Bajoghli has directed the acclaimed 2013 documentary "The Skin that Burns," chronicling the plight of victims of chemical warfare.
Iran Reframed is the result of a decade of field work in Iran, interviewing rank-and-file members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Basij militia, in order to better understand the Islamic Republic from the viewpoint of its supporters. Much analysis and reporting about Iran has focused on officials and centers of power (top-down view), whereas Dr. Bajoghli aimed to study the views and aspirations of low-level operatives (bottom-up view).
A main focus of Dr. Bajoghli's work is the worries of those doing cultural work in transferring the messages and ideals of the revolution across generations. IRGC power-holders are mainly first- and second-generation revolutionaries, whereas the much younger Basij is composed primarily of third-generation members of the ruling class, a class that was marginalized during the late Shah's reign and fears being driven to the margins again, should its political project fail. Among this younger generation of revolutionaries, Dr. Bajoghli had a more difficult time in establishing trust, as they were less willing to open up to a Westernized woman researcher.
Dr. Bajoghli's work with Iranians who are considered agents of oppression is viewed with suspicion by certain opposition members, who wonder why a highly educated, modern woman was given access to such a large number of power-brokers and operatives and why they confided in her. She explained that her work with one of the victims of the Iran-Iraq War, badly hurt by chemical attacks, and her directing the documentary "The Skin that Burns," led to referrals and implicit trust, although the trust wasn't universal. Interestingly, Dr. Bajoghli's work is also viewed with suspicion from the US side. She related that her university retained a law firm to help her conduct her research in the face of smear campaigns and sanctions-caused restrictions.
Both IRCG and Basij, have active propaganda programs, such as producing films, some of which are circulated via underground distribution networks and on the Internet, to hide their regime-linked origins. IRCG's and Basij's cultural propaganda arms are almost entirely male-dominated, although there are women performing functions in other areas. Involvement of armed forces in movie-making isn't unique to Iran, with two other prominent examples being the United States and Israel.
Tensions and conflicts in Iran are not limited to those between the regime and the people. The regime is layered and multi-generational, and conflicts do exist between the different layers and generations. Basijis don't trust or respect their leaders who have moved up to higher classes, viewing them as corrupted by power and wealth. It is indeed true that high-level leaders do not allow their own children to join the Basij, which is viewed as being for the underclass. Some members of IRCG have reached the conclusion that the regime has been unsuccessful in conveying the Revolution's message to young Iranians in religious terms and is increasingly resorting to nationalistic sentiments, such as using heroes and themes from Shahnameh, in its cultural work, trying to re-brand itself as defender of Iran's territorial integrity, rather than regime defender. Interestingly, the propaganda in Arabic aimed for trans-border consumption is still pretty much centered around Shi'i Islam.
A robust Q&A session ensued. Several audience members thanked Dr. Bajoghli for her pioneering work to paint a bottom-up picture of Iran's revolutionaries and what keeps them up at night. Asked whether having written a book, she believes she can continue this work, she opined that under the current political conditions and the associated tensions, it would be impossible to do any work in this area, but that it isn't inconceivable for relations to improve to the level that work may be allowed to proceed. [Persian version of this report]

2020/02/08 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo on the cover of 'Hollywood Reporter' Persian poetry: A couple of verses from Mowlavi (Rumi) Elmo and his friends speak Arabic: A newly-launched Sesame Street show for refugee childrean (1) Images of the day: [Left] The Oscars: Cynthia Erivo, a double nominee and potentially the youngest EGOT ever, reveals the loneliness of being the only actor of color in the race. [Center] Persian poetry: A couple of verses from Mowlavi (Rumi). [Right] Elmo and his friends speak Arabic: A newly-launched Sesame Street show is designed to help refugee children in war-ravaged areas by teaching them skills to cope with anger, fear, frustration, nervousness, and loneliness.
(2) US democratic system needs updating: Currently, 52 Senators are elected by just 18% of the population. And the vote in favor of acquitting Trump in his impeachment trial was 52-48 (not the same 52, but still)! Senators who voted to convict Trump represent 18 million more Americans than those who voted to acquit.
(3) Un-presidented: Trump uses the National Prayer Breakfast and a subsequent White House event to lash out at his opponents, going as far back as James Comey, using hate-filled and foul language.
(4) Moving past silicon: Dozens of startups are using light, quantum physics, and molecular biology to build computer chips and data-storage devices for future computing. "Silicon Valley" needs updating!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Everything Trump touches is soiled forever: The latest casualty is Presidential Medal of Freedom. [Cartoon]
- FBI raises the threat level from neo-Nazis to match that of ISIS.
- World's most-amazing concert venues. [Tweet by George Takei]
- App-streaming: Getting apps on your phone only when they are needed saves around 85% in storage.
- Kepler Communications' CubeSats will create a space Internet for use by other satellites.
- Impressed by the detailed info at the museum: "Fossil of a marine creature, from millions of years ago."
(6) Iran oppression: Dervish activist Shokoufeh Yadollahi has been released from prison, having served a 2-year term. She has lost her sense of smell due to a skull fracture suffered during arrest. Her sons, Kasra and Amir Noori, are still in jail. Read the comments on Pooria Noori's tweet for more info.
(7) Persian poetry: A message to Iran's rulers, who are appealing to patriotism, while also using overt threats, to ensure a good turnout in the upcoming elections. An election boycott movement is gaining strength.

2020/02/06 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Part of the city of Qom's Qajar-era bazaar, Photo 1 Part of the city of Qom's Qajar-era bazaar, Photo 2 Part of the city of Qom's Qajar-era bazaar, Photo 3
Kirk Douglas, one of the last survivors of Hollywood's Golden Age, dead at 103. Love in the age of coronavirus: Valentine's Day 2020 Senator Mitt Romney votes to convict Trump of abuse of power (1) Images of the day: [Top row] The bazaar in the city of Qom, Iran: This part of the Qajar-era structure was built for carpet trading and is still used for that purpose. [Bottom left] Kirk Douglas, one of the last survivors of Hollywood's Golden Age, dead at 103. [Bottom center] Love in the age of coronavirus! [Bottom right] Senator Mitt Romney is accused of being a closet Democrat, after he voted to convict Trump of abuse of power. Here is Romney's full Senate speech (delivered in front of only 4 other Senators) explaining his impeachment vote.
(2) Three examples of failure in safety-critical software as a result of unexpected interactions between system components. [Read about them in a sidebar to Nancy Leveson's article in CACM, February 2020]
(3) Wed. noon concert at the Music Bowl: UCSB Brass Ensemble performed "Theme from Jurassic Park" and other pieces, in various subgroups (solo, trio, quintet, and larger), as part of the "World Music Series" program.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- By clogging a phone hotline, Internet trolls caused long hold times for those reporting votes in Iowa.
- Nancy Pelosi addresses the most-blatant lies Trump told during the State-of-the-Union address.
- Humor: George Conway writes in Washington Post that he believes the President, and in the President.
- Evangelist Franklin Graham dropped by all UK tour venues over his homophobic and Islamophobic views.
- STEM-linked MBA degrees at US business schools: A new trend aimed at attracting international students.
- Persian poetry: A poem by Noushin Moeini Kermanshahi. [Facebook post]
- Persian poetry: Shokoufeh Taghi wants to compose a loving, beautiful, sacred poem ... and call it "Mother."
- A story (in Persian tweets) about Kirk Douglas and the popularity of his "Spartacus" epic movie in Iran.
(5) Three Iranian women sentenced to 5.5-year prison terms for opposing compulsory hijab laws: In a country where murderers and multi-billion-dollar embezzlers go free or receive a slap on the wrist, Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi, and Mojgan Keshavarz are accused of "promoting decadence and prostitution" for their efforts on bahalf of women's rights. Shame on Iran's "justice" system!
(6) Trump, on people who dislike him: (2013) Barack Obama isn't American. (2018) Democrats who don't applaud me are treasonous. (2020) Mitt Romney is a closet Democrat.

2020/02/04 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme: Moscow Mitch, receiving medals from Putin Americans' attitude towards Jews: Eye-opening figures from the Anti-Defamation League Meme: Confronting the return of overt racism to America
Award of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rush Limbaugh Democratic Congresswomen wearing white to support the ongoing fight for women's rights Nancy Pelosi ripping her copy of the State-of-the-Union address (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Moscow Mitch. [Top center] Americans' attitude towards Jews: Eye-opening figures from the Anti-Defamation League. [Top right] Confronting the return of overt racism to America. [Bottom row] Tonight's State-of-the-Union address (starts at the video's 20:30 mark) included awarding Rush Limbaugh, an epitome of racism, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, while pretending to reach out to African-Americans and other minorities, Democratic Congresswomen wearing white to support the ongoing fight for women's rights, and Nancy Pelosi ripping her copy of the address to stress the importance of recycling!
(2) Pants on fire: Iran's President Rouhani and FM Zarif were told within hours of the incident that Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was hit by IRGC missiles, despite the official claims that they learned of the crash cause days later. Meanwhile, a new recording obtained by Ukraine reveals that Iranian airspace officials and a pilot saw both the missile launch and the explosion.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Democratic SOTU response: "Actions speak louder than words." ~ Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
- Fact-checking Trump's 2020 State-of-the-Union address: Filled with lies, as expected!
- Buttigieg edges Sanders by 1% in Iowa (both have 11 delegates), with Warren and Biden placing 3rd and 4th.
- Mehdi Ghadyanloo, whose expansive murals grace building walls in Tehran, exhibits his work in London.
(4) Joke of the day (translated from Persian): A broken-hearted friend came to me and said he no longer believed in love. He'd avoid falling in love from now on and try to be more like me, care-free and emotionless. I wasn't sure whether to comfort him or beat him senseless!
(5) Men Advocating for Gender Equity (UCSB MAGE): This is a group of staff and faculty members at UCSB of which I am a member. The group began with the realization that men (heterosexual white men, in particular) are privileged and may exhibit unconscious bias against women and other less-privileged members of our university and the larger community. We are determined to take steps to deal with these problems, both active personal measures to correct our own behavior and learning not to be passive bystanders when we see bias and prejudice. I have recently accepted the responsibility for mainting a list of readings and other resources to help with our advocacy efforts. This Web page (still under construction) holds the beginnings of that list.

2020/02/03 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photos from the Super Bowl LIV halftime show A few NFL cheerleaders performing in every football game throughout the season 3D-printer demo session at Goleta Valley Public Library (1) Images of the day: [Left] Twitter is abuzz with opinions about the Super Bowl halftime show: Evangelist Franklin Graham and other conservatives, who fully support the foul-mouthed, pussy-grabbing, serial-philandering White House occupant, were offended by it. Most Americans, feminists in particular, found it empowering that two middle-aged Latina moms (Shakira, 43, and J. Lo, 50) performed with such energy and athleticism, pointing out that scant clothing and sexy moves shouldn't be interpreted as asking for sex. The show also made several political statements that may be the real reasons why conservatives took offense. The Puerto Rican flag and depiction of children in cages are two of the most prominent examples. [Center] A few NFL cheerleaders performing in every football game throughout the season, without offending Franklin Graham and other evangelical supporters of Trump. [Right] 3D-printer demo session (see the last item below).
(2) "Super Bowl fever": Name of the condition (hangover, celebrating if your team won, feeling lousy if your team lost) that causes 17.3 million Americans to miss work the day after the Super Bowl. [Source: Newsweek]
11.1 million using pre-approved absence; 4.7 million calling in "sick"; 1.5 million "ghosting" their employers
(3) Is another bubble about to burst in the US stock market? This chart (source: Russel Investments, Datastream) shows similar rises in big-tech stock prices, but the current climb is slower than in 2000. It is still the case, however, that a small number of tech stocks dominate the market's performance. The blue curve traces today's biggest tech companies (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Alphabet). The orange curve represents the biggest tech companies during the dot-com bubble (Intel, Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Lucent, Oracle).
(4) Swamp creatures: Multiple charities are paying Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow (and lining the pockets of his family members) in violation of the law that tax-exempt non-profits should not engage in partisan politics.
(5) IEEE Central Coast Section's special tech event: A 3D-printer introduction and demo session was held this evening at Goleta Valley Public Library, where two Dagoma 3D-printers are available for educational activities and to print patrons' orders at a cost of $1.00 per hour of printing time (a small object may take 2-3 hours to print). The Library's printers use plastic-corn filaments (Polyplus, Polymax) of various colors.
Nicole Lvoff, one of the librarians familiar with the 3D-printer workings, gave the 15 attendees an overview, helped us navigate Web sites where one can find/create interesting objects to print, and told us how to submit our orders to library staff. Patrons can go to Thingiverse.com, search/browse for various interesting objects, download the object's digital file, and e-mail the file to Library staff at goletavalleylibrary@cityofgoleta.org. Alternatively, a number of services can be used to create custom designs. Here are the Library's recommended user-friendly Web sites: [Cults 3D] [SketchUp] [Tinkercad] [Blender]

2020/02/02 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Magazine cover: Time features Kobe Bryant Magazine cover: Vanity Fair features Hollywood celebs Magazine cover: Newsweek features Iran's nuclear ambitions
Time magazine's February 3 issue focuses on children of the 21st century Trump's new book 'The Art of the Quid Pro Quo' Meme: The sinking ship Trumptanic (1) Images of the day: [Top row] Magazine covers on Kobe Bryant, Hollywood, and Iran's nuclear ambitions. [Bottom left] Focus on the youth: Time magazine, issue of February 3, 2020, has a special feature on children of the 21st century. There is a separate feature on the young revolutionaries of Hong Kong. [Bottom center & right] Trump-related memes: His new book, The Art of the Quid Pro Quo, and the sinking ship Trumptanic.
(2) 2020/02/02: Today's date is a palindrome, regardless of the format used to write it down (mm/dd/yyyy, dd/mm/yyyy, yyyy/mm/dd). Today is also day 33 of the year, with 333 days left.
(3) The Vital Two Percent: Over the past few decades, the United States has spent 2.0-2.5% of its GDP on research and development. This is a kind of investment that bears fruit many years, or even decades, later. About 1/5 of this investment comes from the government, which is important to give bold, high-risk ideas a chance to flourish. If the government cuts down on its share of R&D funding, the highest-risk projects, which have the greatest potential returns, will suffer.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- KC scores 21 unanswered points late in the 4th quarter to earn a 31-20 Super Bowl victory over SF.
- Trump congratulates "the Great State of Kansas" for Super Bowl, unaware that the Chiefs play in Missouri!
- New climate simulations that take clouds into account predict more warming than previously thought.
- Classical music: I had no idea that Kobe Bryant played the piano (performing "Moonlight Sonata").
(5) Academic scams: Once in a while, I get an e-mail message or letter from a for-profit entity that appeals to our vanity to make money. A recent e-mail message had an attached certificate of membership in the EU Academy of Sciences. A Google search revealed that while there is a legit and prestigious European Academy of Sciences, there is no such thing as EU Academy of Sciences. Fortunately, someone else had already done the research on this scam and posted his/her findings on Twitter.
(6) On strategies and tools for running successful social-media campaigns: In doing research to respond to a query from an acquaintance, I came across the following three Web pages [Page 1] [Page 2] [Page 3] with information on how to run successful campaigns for worthy social causes. You might find these pages useful.
(7) Liberal-arts education isn't broad enough: In his January 2020 column in Prism, the magazine of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), Henry Petroski points to factual and terminological errors in the memoir of Adam Savage of the "Mythbusters" fame. Savage does not seem to have an engineering education (or any college experience, for that matter), yet he often tackles science and engineering topics in his mythbusting endeavors. We expect editors involved in the publication process to catch factual and terminological errors. Such editors often have liberal-arts education, based on the belief that the broad range of topics covered in such educational programs prepares the graduates for dealing with any subject matter. "Adam Savage's book inadvertently busts the myth that earning [a liberal-arts] degree signals the achievement of a broad education. A broad eduction should, of course, include rudimentary knowledge of science and engineering and their basic laws and tools. It is a sad commentary on our system of higher education that it apparently does not always do so."

2020/02/01 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some properties of the number 73, a star number Celebration of the ancient Iranian Sadeh Festival: Photo 2 Celebration of the ancient Iranian Sadeh Festival: Photos 1 and 3
Gwen Ifill Black Heritage commemorative stamp unveiled by US Postal Service Catastrophic bushfires in Australia continue to kill a vast number of animals 'Pity the Nation' (after Khalil Gibran): English poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1) Images of the day: [Top left] The number 73 (see the next item below). [Top center & right] Sadeh, the ancient Iranian festival of fire, dates back to Persian Empire's first Pishdadian dynasty: It is held 50 calendar days (100 days and nights, "sad" meaning 100 in Persian) before Norooz. This video shows how the festival was celebrated on January 30, 2020, in Cham Village of Iran's Yazd Province. [Bottom left] Gwen Ifill Black Heritage commemorative stamp unveiled by US Postal Service. [Bottom center] Catastrophic bushfires in Australia continue to kill a vast number of animals (photo credit: Time magazine). [Bottom right] "Pity the Nation" (after Khalil Gibran): English poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
(2) The number 73: As a numbers buff, I always check on the year number, my birthday number, and other numbers I encounter in my life. I was surprised to find out that my birthday number this year is quite special, so much so that there is a T-shirt bearing it. Here are some of the properties of 73: A palindrome in binary 1001001 and in octal 111; The 21st prime (interestingly, 3 x 7 = 21); A permutable prime with 37, which happens to be the 12th prime; Part of the 8th twin primes, 71 & 73; A star number (so is 37, see the diagram); A star-of-stars can be made with 73 stars of 37 counters each (see the diagram); Every positive integer can be written as the sum of 73 or fewer sixth powers; The sole Sheldon prime, an homage to Sheldon Cooper, the fictional theoretical physicist on "The Big Bang Theory."
(3) Daring to go hijab-less in Iran: Some of the women protesting compulsory hijab laws in public seem antsy and keep looking over their shoulders in anticipation of violence or arrest. These backward laws and the way they are enforced are stains on humanity in the 21st century. Kudos to the brave women of Iran and their front-line position in fighting discrimination and backwardness. [Video]
(4) Nostalgic Persian music: Two old-time singers perform in pre-Islamic-Revolution Iran in what appears to be a car-company-sponsored ceremony to honor the country's soccer team. [3-minute video]
(5) Trump tweeted, "Getting a little exercise this morning!" with a photo of himself swinging at a golf ball: Here are sample comments. Nothing reveals the deep division in America better than reading such comments.
(6) Today is World Hijab Day: Power to all women who choose to wear the hijab based on personal beliefs, rather than social oppression or male pressure, and power to those who oppose and remove their forced hijab!

2020/01/31 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cartoon: Khamenei's house of cards Cartoon: A cat at the pearly gates! Cartoon: Finding humor in disasters
Meme: Mitch McConnell: The most disgraceful politician to ever set foot in the US Senate A panel discussion at UCLA's Bunche Hall 10383 on Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 4:30 PM Map of the Trump/Kushner Middle East peace plan (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Khamenei's house of cards (credit: Iranwire.com). [Top center] A cat at the pearly gates! [Top right] Finding humor in disasters (see the next item below). [Bottom left] Mitch McConnell: The most disgraceful politician to ever set foot in the US Senate. [Bottom center] "Minorities in Iran: Legal, Sociological, and Historiographical Approaches": UCLA Near Eastern Studies panel discussion (Bunche Hall 10383, Tuesday 2020/02/11, 4:30 PM), featuring Drs. Neda Bolourchi (Rutgers) and Farzin Vejdani (Harvard). [Bottom right] Map of the Trump/Kushner peace plan: A good part of the West Bank, including the totality of the fertile Jordan River Valley (the Palestinians' "bread basket"), is taken away and given to Israel. In return, Palestinians get two clumps of land in the Negev Desert. No wonder the Palestinians rejected the plan outright!
(2) Iranians using humor to cope with anxiety and losses after recent plane crashes and emergency landings.
- I put my phone on airplane mode. It crashed!
- The agent didn't enter a destination on my plane ticket. "I can't predict where it will go down," he said!
- Is your life in a rut? Fly with us for unprecedented excitement!
- Our off-runway landings are parts of our new door-to-door service!
(3) Quote of the day: "Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing." ~ Author/poet William Butler Yeats
(4) Iranian composer, songwriter, and musical arranger Jahanbakhsh Pazooki, who was born in Shiraz and grew up in Isfahan, is honored in this 9-minute video, which features a composition of his from 50 years ago.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Brexit Day: The UK-Europe divorce, approved in a 2016 referendum, finally goes into effect tonight.
- The greatest difference between Presidents Trump and Obama isn't skin color, but character content.
- Bulgarian journalist Victoria Marinova, who wrote about government corruption, raped and beaten to death.
- The gender data gap: This Time magazine article is a good summary of a book I reviewed recently.
(6) World's oldest and youngest leaders: Featured in Time magazine's issue of February 3, 2020, are the 94-year-old PM of Malaysia, Mohamad Mahathir, and the 34-year-old PM of Finland, Sanna Marin.
(7) Religious apartheid in Iran: How, by denying national ID cards to followers of all but four sanctioned religions, Iran's regime has intensified its efforts to force religious minorities into fear-based submission.
(8) Telescope decommissioned: NASA officially shuts down the infrared space telescope Spitzer, one of four telescopes that map space in various frequency ranges. Even though Spitzer will send no new data from this point on, scientists should remain busy for years, combing through its vast collection of data.

2020/01/30 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Materials Research Outreach Symposium 2020 A century after women earned the right to vote, we still have no Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution Nature in art: Colorful wildflowers (1) Images of the day: [Left] UCSB Materials Research Outreach Symposium 2020 (see the last item below). [Center] A century after women earned the right to vote, we still have no Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution. [Right] Nature in art: Colorful wildflowers.
(2) This week on the UCSB campus: Graduate students remind the administration that their working conditions are the campus's learning conditions. Also, one must be vigilant as the November elections near. Not all voter mobilization efforts are legit or well-meaning. [UCSB Daily Nexus front-page headlines]
(3) Iran makes its discrimination against Baha'is open and official by denying them national identity cards: To get the cards, Baha'is have no choice but to lie about their religious beliefs by choosing one of the four officially-sanctioned religions on the application form.
(4) Trump and Kushner broke the Middle East peace process: Now they are making it worse by offering a plan designed to help the corrupt Netanyahu win re-election. Not surprisingly, the ill-advised plan was immediately rejected by the Palestinians. The corrupt rich kid who got a White House job from his corrupt father-in-law is now insulting Palestinians, further breaking the peace process. Talk about nepotism and cluelessness!
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Iranian human-rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh awarded honorary doctorate by Queen's U. in Canada.
- Suspicious fire in West Los Angeles high-rise injures 13: The old 25-story tower had no sprinkler system.
- Persian music: Talented young artists, enjoying music and bringing joy to others. [4-minute video]
- Yesterday's "World Music Series" noon concert at UCSB Music Bowl: Djembe drum solos by Ngoki. [Videos]
(6) Danger of two old satellites on collision course: They were said to have a 1% chance of colliding over Pittsburgh last night. If they had collided, they would have created a large debris field, endangering many other satellites. The satellites crossed paths without colliding. So, we are safe for now, but the problem of space junk will revisit us soon, and we may not be so lucky next time.
(7) UCSB Materials Research Outreach Symposium [Schedule of events]: Held yesterday and today, the technical gathering showcased research on materials by UCSB researchers and collaborators. I attended just a few talks between my classes, office hours, and other engagements.
Engineering Dean Rod Alferness opened the symposium. The first presentation, by Professor Stephen D. Wilson, was about UCSB's recently established quantum foundry, supported by NSF, in collaboration with other academic and industrial partners. [Images] [Two key slides].
Another talk on Wednesday morning was by Dr. Angela Pitenis, a faculty member with UCSB's Materials Department, who works on soft materials needed for making medical implants. [Images]
Wednesday's last lecture before the poster session and reception, and the day's highlight, was the annual Cheetham Lecture, named in honor of Sir Tony Cheetham, founder of UCSB's Material Research Lab. This year's lecture coincided with the 100th anniversary of the publication of a landmark paper that started the interest in polymers. So, it is fitting that Tim Lodge spoke on "Bicontiuous Structures in Charged Polymer Materials." Bicontinuity is a property that allows a synthetic material to simultaneously possess two distinct properties, such as mechanical strength from one part and good electrical conductivity from the other. [Images]
Today, I sampled a few talks and took a look at some of the posters on display in the venue's lobby. Most of the talks were too specialized for me to make sense of them. However, the mere selection of topics, as well as introductions to talks and transitions between them, convey useful information. Material science/engineering is developing at an amazing pace, particularly in conjuction with nanotechnology. The age of enhanced and made-to-order materials is already here.

2020/01/29 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Remembering basketball legend Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) Fight like a girl: Teenager Priyanka Singha Roy beats up three men who tried to sexually assault her Cover image of Malcolm Nance's 'The Plot to Destroy Democracy' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Remembering basketball legend Kobe Bryant (1978-2020), whose professional home and site of many of his memorable performances, the Staples Center in Los Angeles, hosted Sunday night's Grammy Awards ceremony, where he was remembered fondly, mere hours after his untimely death. [Center] Fight like a girl: Teenager Priyanka Singha Roy beats up three men who tried to sexually assault her. [Right] Cover image of Malcolm Nance's The Plot to Destroy Democracy (see the last item below).
(2) UCLA play of possible interest to my SoCal readers: I plan to attend the play "The Manic Monologues" on Sunday, February 9, 2020, 1:30 PM check-in, 2:00 PM program (James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall, UCLA; free, but reservations requested). [Right before the event in the next blog entry]
(3) UCLA Bilingual Lectures on Iran: I plan to attend this event on Sunday, February 9, 2020, 4:00-6:00 PM (Dodd Hall 121, UCLA). Dr. Narges Bajoghli of Johns Hopkins University will speak in Persian under the fascinating title "Iran Reframed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic."
(4) Iranian chess champion Mitra Hejazipour: Compulsory hijab arises from the thought of woman as the second sex. I will no longer participate in upholding this abominable practice.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Separation of church and state? Here is White House official Paula White debunking the myth!
- International ocean-science satellite #Sentinel6 will help with observations of global sea-level change.
- Four Stanford University researchers create a soft, stretchable battery prototype for wearables.
- Open-access publishing gets a boost: ACM signs agreements with U. California, CMU, MIT, and Iowa State.
- Free Persian-language e-book from a talented writer: Aida Ahadiany's Dr. Brian Climbs Up the Chimney.
- Talk about wrath of nature! [3-minute video]
- German tourist exhibits her love for an Iranian instrument (setar) in southern Iran. [1-minute video]
(6) Book review: Nance, Malcolm (with foreword by Rob Reiner), The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, unabridged audiobook on 10 CDs, read by Peter Ganim, Hachette Audio, 2018. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Malcolm Nance, a career US Intelligence officer, describes vividly how Russia uses cyber-warfare, propaganda, and alternative reality to manipulate our news and traditional/on-line media to destroy democratic institutions from within. The consequences of not stopping such attacks by Russia and other state and non-state actors are dire indeed!
Weaponizing the news media is a Russian specialty that pre-dates electronic and social media. Nance cites examples from decades ago when the Soviet Union manipulated print and radio/TV news. With the global reach of electronic media, Russia's job in destabilizing the West, by attacking democratic institutions and economic/defense alliances, has become much easier and orders-of-magnitude cheaper.
By supporting right-wing extremist groups worldwide and exploiting wedge issues, such as immigration, class, and race, Russia succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in influencing the 2016 US election, as well as recent elections in several other countries. France was perhaps most successful in confronting and counteracting Russia's cyber-warfare, going as far as setting so-called "honey traps" for Russian hackers to divert their attention.
Nance's cautionary tale received a major boost from a December 2019 Facebook action to neutralize disinformation campaigns by Epoch Media Group and BL Media through the deactivation of 610 Facebook accounts, 89 Pages, 156 Groups, and 72 Instagram accounts (over $9 million in advertising), that used computer-generated faces to spread pro-Trump and anti-Chinese government content. Telltales like distorted backgrounds and misshapen ears helped spot the fakes.
If Nance, currently a US government outsider, can amass so much information about the Russian campaign to destroy our democratic institutions from within, our intelligence community must know a great deal more than they let out, perhaps trying to avoid embarrassment on their part and panic on the part of the public.

2020/01/28 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Today's 'Pacific Views' talk by Dr. Leah Stokes at the UCSB Library Trump with Pinocchio nose The four leading Democratic candidates in the upcoming Iowa caucuses: Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg (1) Images of the day: [Left] Today's "Pacific Views" talk by Dr. Leah Stokes at the UCSB Library (see the next item below). [Center] After telling thousands of lies and being contradicted by hundreds of former associates, some people still believe this man and think he is the chosen one. Go figure! [Right] Four leading Democratic candidates in the upcoming Iowa caucuses: Sanders, Warren, Biden, Buttigieg.
(2) "Climate Change in Our Backyard: Impacts, Policy, and Politics": This was the title of a fascinating talk by Dr. Leah C. Stokes (UCSB Assistant Professor of Political Science, Environmental Studies, and Bren School) in the framework of UCSB Library's Pacific Views Speaker Series. The talk was tied to "UCSB Reads" program's 2020 book selection, Rising, about sea-level rise. As a scholar/activist with a multidisciplinary outlook, Professor Stokes is uniquely equipped to address the thorny issues associated with climate change in the realms of social impact, political discourse, and policy considerations.
Sea level rise and other impacts of climate change will have a devastating impact on California, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. We in Santa Barbara will lose much of our ocean beaches. And there are serious impacts from extended droughts, mega-wildfires, mudslides, and the like. One important aspect of climate change is the unequal way in which it affects people in different economic classes. The rich use lots of resources and contribute to destroying the nature, whose impact is felt primarily by the poor. Even today, flooding occurs in some areas of the US in the absence of a major rain event.
Progress toward managing the impacts of climate change has been slow. We need major initiatives, because individual acts, helpful as they may be, are woefully inadequate to make a dent in the enormous challenges we face. To be more effective, one should consider joining groups (e.g., 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Citizens Climate Lobby, and Sierra Club), volunteer for an electoral campaign, or lobby for climate policy. The media is for the most part silent in linking catastrophic events, such as the devastating fires in Australia, to climate change. In fact, well-funded disinformation campaigns are doing just the opposite, blaming environmentalist for setting the fires intentionally to advance their cause.
Unfortunately, in some domains, we have been going backwards: As clean nuclear power plants are decommissioned, they are replaced primarily by natural-gas plants, rather than renewable sources. Shortsighted coal subsidies in some states are promoting the most-polluting sources of energy. It is important to think strategically and deeply. For example, term limits for politicians, generally considered to be a positive development, may actually increase the influence of interest groups with deep pockets in the face of less-experienced politicians and staffers.
I eagerly await the release of the forthcoming Oxford University Press title, Short Circuiting Policy: Interest Groups and the Battle Over Clean Energy and Climate Policy in the American States, on which today's talk was based. [Images] [Leah Stokes on Twitter] [Climate book club] [Home page of Leah Stokes]
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A powerful message to the US Republicans and all idol worshippers worldwide! [6-minute video]
- Not one word from Trump, WH, US Senate, or GOP about 3 rockets that struck US Embassy in Baghdad.
- Mary Mohammadi has been missing in Iran since the last street protest of two weeks ago.
- Important facts about the new coronavirus for those who prefer to have the information in Persian. [Text]
- Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni, who chronicled the beginnings of the "Arab Spring," dead at 36.
- Prime Minister of Finland: Women being in charge benefits everyone, women and men. [Interview]
(4) Five confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the US, 2 in California: This is already getting scary, even without the as-yet unconfirmed claims that Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, is the site of biowarfare labs. Could it be that the virus escaped from a biowarfare research facility? Even the thought is frightening. I await further information in this regard. As of yesterday, DNA sleuths have read the virus's genome and traced it to an animal market in Wuhan.
[Today's update: At least 100 people are monitored in 26 US states, with a quarter of them cleared.]

2020/01/27 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Photo of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Nature dancing: Artist Chris Kenny's collection of twigs The majestic Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano near Tehran, Iran (1) Images of the day: [Left] Kobe Bryant (1978-2020) dead at 41: He perished yesterday with 8 others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, in a Calabasas, CA, helicopter crash. Among his many honors were 5 NBA titles, 2 Olympics gold medals, and 1 Academy Award. Bryant was on the right side of history, speaking against divisiveness and hatred (tweet). Last night's Grammy Awards ceremony paid a tribute to the basketball legend on short notice. [Center] Nature dancing: Artist Chris Kenny's collection of twigs. [Right] The majestic Mount Damavand, a dormant volcano near Tehran, Iran.
(2) US veterans group up in arms against Trump: He has been asked to apologize for referring to some three-dozen cases of traumatic brain injury suffered by US troops as a result of Iran's missile attack on a US base in Iraq as "headaches and a couple other things."
(3) Trump's so-called "Peace Plan" isn't about reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians: It includes nothing that would make the Paletinians take it seriously. It is designed to help Netanyahu's re-election amid corruption charges, which would then help his own re-election bid.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- If I were Bernie Sanders, I'd be very alarmed by praise coming from Donald Trump!
- It is unfortunate that Trump has created such a mess that Americans crave safe, boring candidates.
- Humor: Ask five engineers and you'll get five different explanations—six if one of them went to Stanford.
- Riddle — Q: How do you get Trump to change a light bulb? A: Tell him Obama put it in.
- Persian poetry: A wonderful poem by Parvin Etessami.
(5) Mystery passenger: According to CNN, one of the two Ukranian passengers on the downed UIA Flight 752 was 38-year-old Olena Malakhova, an arms dealer who previously helped skirt sanctions against Libya.
(6) In defense of Masih Alinejad: A couple of Facebook friends and Twitter users took issue with this repost of mine about reporter Masih Alinejad. I am sharing my response below, because friends may not have seen it.
I too am ambivalent about Masih Alinejad. When I first saw a photo of her with Mike Pompeo, I was shocked and made a critical post about her. However, her service in exposing the misogyny of the Iranian regime and extreme prejudice against women in Iranian laws and social structure, as well as organizing opposition inside and outside Iran to compulsory hijab, is undeniable. Normally, she would have been employed by some news service in Iran, but absent that, she has made the decision to use Voice of America and other American resources to spread her message. Not the ideal choice from my point of view, but I am still amazed by how much she has accomplished. Let's not fall into the trap of demanding perfection from those who do something useful for society.

2020/01/26 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Whose political analysis do you believe: Someone with a PhD in political science or college drop-outs? Persian music: Two concerts by Koobang Ensemble in Southern California Historical reflection: Something being legal doesn't necessarily make it right (1) Images of the day: [Left] Whose political analysis do you believe: A woman with a PhD in political science or a bunch of male college drop-outs? [Center] Persian music: Two SoCal concerts by Koobang Ensemble. [Right] Historical reflection: Something being legal doesn't necessarily make it right.
(2) On Saudi Arabia's role in the 9/11 attacks: Parts of the FBI report on 9/11's Saudi connection are still classified, despite valiant efforts by the victims' families to get to the bottom of things by uncovering the identities of Saudi officials purported to have helped the hijackers.
(3) Book-burning in Iran: This cleric, shown burning a medical textbook to demonstrate his trust in Islam over science, no doubt has access to modern hospitals in Iran and abroad for his own health needs.
(4) Lack of civility in Iran afflicts even an esteemed cultural venue: Manouchehr Sahbai, guest conductor for Tehran's Symphony Orchestra, badmouths its permanent conductor, Shardad Rohani, in his opening remarks, and the audience sinks to his level by screaming obscenities in protest. Orchestra members then agree to play a few pieces only if the guest conductor is kicked out.
(5) China's ambitious real-estate developments, re-creating world-famous cities, such as Paris, London, and Venice, are turning into ghost towns due to an economic bust.
(6) New linguistic invention by Lou Dobbs: The most historic president!
"People know, after 3 years of this President, the most historic President in our Country's history, that there is no one who can touch what he's done in 3 years, foreign policy, domestic policy, ..."
(7) Humor, the ultimate coping mechanism: Iran is imposing divorce quotas on its provinces. Now, people are joking about divorce tourism, about the government imposing a tax on the coveted divorce slots to make money, and about scalpers selling the slots on the black market!
(8) Fareed Zakaria interviews Iraq's President Bahram Salih: A very well-spoken man, who is quite careful when talking about Iran and its role in Iraq. The full video isn't available yet. [1-minute video]

2020/01/25 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Newsweek magazine cover story: Nigeria, the emerging black superpower Cover image of Caroline Criado Perez's 'Invisible Women' Cartoon: 'We the People' turtle food -- Tasty bits of shredded US Constitution (1) Images of the day: [Left] The emerging black superpower: In 30 years, Nigeria will have more people than the US and by the end of the century, it will be the third most-populous country behind India and China, and the most-densely populated. Imagine how many Nigerian scam e-mails your great-grandkids will receive! [Center] Cover image of Caroline Criado Perez's Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (see the last item below). [Right] "We the People" turtle food—Tasty bits of shredded US Constitution.
(2) Activist under attack: Journalist Masih Alinejad is being relentlessly attacked by the Iranian regime, its left- and right-wing opposition, and other bastions of patriarchy. Here is part of a woman's spirited defense.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Happy Chinese New Year: Entering the year of the rat!
- Andre Rieu delights his audience by paying homage to the Macarena!
- Persian music: The Kurdish band Mastoor performs "Ye Shab-e Zaar o Parishan." [4-minute video]
- Modern Kurdish dance music: Dina Qaysari performs a song by Halkawt Zaher.
(4) Book review: Perez, Caroline Criado, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Blackstone Audio, 2019. [My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Perez presents compelling arguments on why we need women in positions of power and influence. We are all aware of the gender pay gap and various other instances of gender inequity, such as in hiring decisions and promotions. Gender data gap is even more important, because it affects so many different aspects of women's lives in society.
I can't even begin to summarize all the different ways in which information about women is missing from our data sets and how the gap affects women's lives, so I will merely cite a few notable examples.
For years, crash-test dummies were built to male specifications, so data on the effects of car accidents on women was lacking. When testers finally came around to considering women less than a decade ago, they simply built scaled-down versions of the dummies, ignoring different weight distributions in women, not to mention pregnant women. As a result, women are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. Trials for new drugs have also systematically ignored women. Even when women are included in the trials, gender-disaggregated results are usually unavailable.
Facebook has had female employees for many years. Yet, until COO Sheryl Sandberg became pregnant, the issue of parking accommodation for pregnant employees was on no one's radar. Other instances of lack of data or accommodations in physical facilities include those of bathrooms, chair/desk heights, and stairway pitches. When women are forced in military training to walk at the same pace/gait as men, they suffer stresses and injuries. Lighting, and personal safety concerns more generally (as in parking structures), are among other overlooked issues.
There are numerous other examples, including in the tech world, where data supposedly rules. Phones that are too big for women's hands make one-handed operation all but impossible, leading to usage problems or even injuries. Women are much more likely than men to rely on public transport, yet design of buses/trains and setting of their schedules are male-centered (home-office trips, rather than school/childcare drop-offs/pick-ups or shopping).
Perhaps the most stunning data gap belongs to the way work, productivity, and leisure time are measured. Unpaid work, such as child and elder care, done predominantly by women, is usually missing in economic studies and GDP calculations. In fact, we are conditioned to associate offices with work and homes with leisure, whereas, even ignoring domestic help, home is quite often a woman's primary or secondary workplace.
I found this book eye-opening and transformative. I was aware of some of the issues addressed by Perez, but found many instances where I wondered aloud, "Why hadn't I thought of that?" I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to examine the underlying causes of gender inequity in our societies, even when there is no systemic patriarchal oppression or religious dogma and the men running the show are well-meaning.

2020/01/24 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Time magazine cover celebrates Gaurdians of the Year, the public servants Jared Kushner, on the cover of Time magazine Mr. Peanut, 1916-2020: Planters has killed off its 104-year-old mascot (1) Images of the day: [Left] Time magazine cover celebrates Gaurdians of the Year, the public servants. [Center] What has Jared Kushner done to deserve a Time magazine cover? [Right] Mr. Peanut, 1916-2020: Planters has killed off its 104-year-old mascot, originally designed by a schoolboy as part of a contest.
(2) Harvey Weinstein's dilemma: He uses a walker or holds someone's hand to walk and looks disheveled during court appearances. This may create sympathy for him in court, but his horrendous appearance punches a hole in the defense he offers that his sexual encounters with so many gorgeous women were consensual!
(3) US continues to decline from its top position in science and engineering: According to Washington Post, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, a federal agency within NSF, has reached this conclusion by examining research expenditures, journal articles, scientific workforce, and education data.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Adam Schiff's closing remarks: Yesterday, at the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. [9-minute video]
- Riddle — Q: How do you get Trump to change a light bulb? A: Tell him Obama put it in.
- New climate simulations that take clouds into account predict more warming than previously thought.
- A music/sports video, featuring many action scenes from Rio 2016 Paralympics and more: "Yes I Can"
- Tweets of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers: About Neda Agha Soltan and Masih Alinejad. [Image]
- And here is a heartfelt Facebook post, in Persian, by Dr. Shokoufeh Taghi about the UIA Flight 752 crash.
(5) The Riemann Hypothesis in computer science: Yu. Matiyasevich of St. Petersburg has reformulated the Riemann Hypothesis as the statement that a particular explicitly-presented register machine with 29 registers and 130 instructions never halts. The hypothesis, quite important in mathematics, also has surprising implications to computer science. For example, the currently-best deterministic algorithm for testing the primatlity of a number p has a complexity of at least p^6, but if the Riemann Hypothesis is assumed correct, the complexity goes down to p^4.
(6) The Vital Two Percent: Over the past few decades, the United States has spent 2.0-2.5% of its GDP on R&D. This is a kind of investment that bears fruit many years, or even decades, later. About 1/5 of this investment comes from the government, which is important to give bold, high-risk ideas a chance to flourish. If the government cuts down on its share of R&D funding, the highest-risk projects, which have the greatest potential returns, will suffer.

2020/01/23 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Adam Schiff is showing a mastery of persuasion and detail at Trump's impeachment trial Holocaust Remembrance, 75th Anniversary: Dignitaries gather in Jerusalem to mark the occasion Jim Lehrer dead at 85: America and its news community lost one of their most eloquent and respected personalities (1) Images of the day: [Left] Adam Schiff is showing a mastery of persuasion and detail at Trump's impeachment trial: His impressive presentation will likely not lead to Trump's immediate removal from office, given the blind loyalty of GOP senators, but it will surely persuade many voters to kick him out, come November 2020. [Center] Holocaust Remembrance, 75th Anniversary: Dignitaries gather in Jerusalem to mark the occasion. Several speakers warn about growing anti-Semitism across the world, asserting that remembering is not enough. [Right] Jim Lehrer dead at 85: America and its news community lost one of their most eloquent and respected personalities.
(2) Joking with the news (credit: Comedian Seth Meyers): United Methodist Church is splitting into two churches. One will allow gay/lesbian marriages. The other will have a terrible choir!
(3) 'Tooth-shattering' response: A woman associated with Iran's Islamic regime opined on state TV that people who don't like the current situation should go live in a different country. A viewer tweeted, "It's difficult for 75 million citizens to settle elsewhere. It's much easier for regime supporters to move!" [Persian version]
(4) Two images originally posted on January 23, 2018: Iran's working children (art) and a snow woman, built in the Iranian city of Marivan to protest compulsory hijab laws. [Images]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Several Chinese cities quarantined to prevent further spread of a new coronavirus outbreak.
- Camera that shoots 1 trillion frames per second can capture previously unseen phenomena.
- Tesla becomes the first US automaker to surpass $100 billion market valuation.
- Astronaut Jasmine Moghbeli could be the first woman to land on the Moon. [Bio and other info]
- Tweets of the day, for my Persian-speaking readers. [Tweet images]
- Goleta seems to have moved to the Southern Hemisphere: It's summer-like this week and next. [Image]
(6) Why does time only go forward? This is one of the most fundamental questios of science. If you believe a new theory just unveiled, time doesn't have to go forward. It goes forward for us because we are in one of two mirror universes created by Big Bang. In the other universe, time moves backward. But this creates many questions, rather than answer our original one.
Like many recent theories in physics, laymen like me don't understand its basis and it looks just like handwaving. For example, the amount of matter and energy in the universe do not match our observations? Just say that there exist dark matter and dark energy!
Readers may find my review of Richard Morris's Time's Arrows: Scientific Attitudes Toward Time helpful.

2020/01/22 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB bike path to the north of the Music Building Shakesbeer festival in Santa Barbara: Ayatollah Khamenei look-alike Mini-pizzas on sourdough bread and hearty vegetable soup for dinner (with leftovers) (1) Images of the day: [Left] Topsy-turvy: The hatched areas in the middle of this divided UCSB bike path supposedly tell bikers to stay out. But then at pedestrian crossings, where the center divider is supposed to provide protection, there is no hatching! [Center] Humor: Ayatalloh Khamenei is in Santa Barbara for the Shakesbeer festival! (Photo credit: Santa Barbara Sentinel). [Right] Mini-pizzas on sourdough bread and hearty vegetable soup for dinner (with leftovers). Your place was empty!
(2) Another case of foreign interference in US affairs: Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman has been alleged to have been personally involved in hacking Jeff Bezos's phone.
(3) World Music Series noon concert, under today's gorgeous blue skies, at UCSB Music Bowl: Kalinka, a Santa-Barbara-based quartet, with Fred Nadis (clarinet), Eric Ederer (guitar), Besnik Yzeiri (violin), and Andrew Fedders (bass), performed. The videos are variations on a Jewish tune, a dance tune from the Balkans, and two more pieces of Balkan music. [Video 1] [Video 2] [Video 3] [Video 4]
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- New flu-like coronavirus epidemic is spreading: A man in Washington State seems to be the first US case.
- Oldest employee of the state of Indiana is retiring at 102: I have another 30 years to go!
- Modern Kurdish dance music: Dina Qaysari performs a song by Halkawt Zaher.
- An impressive magic-trick routine, performed at a talent competition show. [3-minute video]
(5) Learning about sex and gender specturms: Yesterday, I attended a 2-hour seminar "Queer & Trans 101," the introductory session in "Queer Trans Identities & Experiences Seminars" offered by UCSB's Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.
I am a member of "Men Advocating for Gender Equity" (MAGE). As part of our early deliberations, we came upon the question of who can be a member of the group ("Men") and who are we trying to help ("Women")? Thus, we felt a need to educate ourselves on sex and gender identity/expression spectrums. The seminar was led by a couple of very helpful and articulate individuals, who provided us with much useful information about the LGBTQIA+ community, the basic concepts and terminology, and pertinent resources for digging deeper.
One take-away from yesterday's consultations was that we should avoid being bogged down in terminology and in efforts to be overly inclusive. There are many problems of inequity, even if we focus on just a subset of the sex/gender spectrum. There are also race, ethnicity, religion, age, and other aspects to discrimination and the resulting inequities. Doing something in a limited area is better than not doing anything, because we can't do all. As they say, "perfect is the enemy of good."
I will write more on this topic as I learn more, as well as on MAGE activities.

2020/01/21 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Remembering Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi, the great 10th-century Persian poet, on the occasion on his birthday Restoration and painting of a Qajar-era Iranian relic by Sima Azimi Cartoon: The wag-the-dog war that stopped short of becoming a real war (1) Images of the day: [Left] Persian poetry: Remembering Abu al-Qasem Ferdowsi, the great 10th-century poet credited with resurrecting the Persian language after the Arab invasion, on the occasion on his birthday. [Center] Restoration and painting of a Qajar-era Iranian relic by Sima Azimi. [Right] Cartoon of the day: The wag-the-dog war that stopped short of becoming a real war.
(2) Trump's only hope in keeping his misdeeds secret is for the Republican support to hold up in the Senate: So, he is pandering to Republicans by praising their unity. But there is much push-back from both conservative and moderate Republicans.
(3) The oldest material on Earth: A 220-pound meteorite, which hit the Australian town of Murchison in 1969, contains 7-billion-years-old astral dust predating the birth of the Sun by more than 2 billion years.
(4) Amnesty International reports instances of brutality and sexual abuse by Iran's security forces against those peacefully protesting the downing of UIA Flight 752.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Partial list of Alan Dershowitz clients: O. J. Simpson; Mike Tyson; Jeffrey Epstein; Donald Trump. Enough said!
- Soliciting murder: An Iranian MP says he will pay $3 million to anyone who kills President Trump.
- Iran's Islamic regime creates the illusion of being popular by bussing people to rallies and feeding them.
- The first paragraph of Martin Luther King's letter, written from the Birmingham City jail.
(6) Khamenei is increasingly isolated from the realities of life in Iran: He cares more about Iran's position in Lebanon and Syria, and sabre-rattling against the US and Israel, than about Iranians suffering from crushing economic hardships and devastating natural disaters.
(7) Gelareh Jabbari, Iran's state-TV host of the program "Good Morning Iran" apologizes on Istagram for lying to viewers for 13 years. Most humans are forgiving kinds, but is it acceptable for someone to occupy a position of power, use that power against the people, and then be relieved of responsibility with an apology?
(8) For my Persian-speaking readers: A Facebook friend's partly-humorous admonition of those who keep traveling to Iran (ending up in prison as hostages) after defecting to the West.
(9) Final thought for the day (applicable to Iran and today's USA): "Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of their sympathies, with those crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is still the best guarantee of their loyalty." ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

2020/01/20 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy Martin Luther King Day! Meme 1, with quotation Happy Martin Luther King Day! Meme 2, with quotation Unprecedented flooding in southeastern Iran (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Happy Martin Luther King Day! Here are a couple of MLK quotes for the occasion. * "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant." ** "We need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity, but in love with humanity." [Right] Unprecedented flooding in southeastern Iran (see the last item below).
(2) From an interview with actress Alfre Woodard (Time magazine, issue of Janauary 20, 2020):
Q: You have played something like 120 different roles in horror, comedy, melodrama, action.
A: Gangster! I was a gangster. And the President! Not at the same time. I could do that now.
(3) Holocaust history: Surviving members among 999 young women, now in their 90s, thought that the first Jewish transport taking them to Auschwitz was some kind of adventure.
(4) Two tweets about Iran: One notes that Khamenei did not even mention disastrous flooding in southeastern Iran during his Friday Prayers sermon. The other one honors a 49-year-old nurse, mother of four, who was killed by a bullet to her heart during recent street protests, as she headed home from work. [Tweet images]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Woman drives into oncoming traffic, believing that God would take care of her and other possible victims.
- New Yorker cartoon caption of the day: "Is there any way to get out of impeachment jury duty?"
- Modern Kurdish music: Berbuk Nasli performs a dance tune by Halkawt Zaher. [5-minute video]
- "People Have the Power": Patti Smith performs with Choir! Choir! Choir! and 250 back-up singers. [Video]
(6) Humor in the face of tagedy: The downed Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 had one survivor. He is stuck at his girlfriend's place in Tehran, not knowing how to break the news to his wife that he lied about having to go to Kiev for urgent business.
(7) Extracting oxygen from moon dust: Last year, a paper was published about the oxygen content of moon dust. Now, scientists are working on a large-scale facility to do the extraction for future moon missions.
(8) Two heartwrenching disasters: The shock of 176 deaths in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 has somehow overshadowed the plight of people in Iran's Sistan and Bluchistan Province suffering from unprecedented flooding. If you don't have a favorite charity through which to contribute to relief efforts, you can use Child Foundation's Facebook fundraiser.

2020/01/19 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
At a mosque's threshold, in the southern province of Khuzistan, worshippers avoid putting their shoes on the American and Israeli flags Humor: Graphic depicting the process of writing a book Cover image for Salman Rushdie's 'Quichotte: A Novel' (1) Images of the day: [Left] Iranians subtly reject the slogans "Death to America" and "Death to Israel": At a mosque's threshold, in the southern province of Khuzistan, worshippers avoid putting their shoes on the American and Israeli flags. [Center] The process of writing a book: I suspect that the creator of this graphic was thinking about writing a novel, but I can tell you that writing a technical book is no different! [Right] Cover image for Salman Rushdie's Quichotte: A Novel (see the last item below).
(2) Hamed Esmaeilion's heart-wrenching love letter (in Persian) to his late wife Dr. Parisa Eghbalian, who, along with their daughter Reera, perished in the downing of UIA Flight 752.
(3) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Bone-spurs Donnie called top military generals a "bunch of dopes and babies" in a 2017 meeting.
- For my Persian-speaking readers: Two tweets contrasting Khamenei's words with those of Justin Trudeau.
- A growing number of Iranian students with valid visas are being deported from US airports.
- Ken Starr to defend Trump during his impeachment trial: As if he weren't hated enough already!
- UC proposes annual tuition increases over five years: Bye-bye what was left of affordable education!
(4) Book review: Rushdie, Salman, Quichotte: A Novel, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by Vikas Adam, Random House Audio, 2019. [My 4-star review of this book on GoodReads]
The audiobook begins by reviewing the various spellings and pronunciations of the word "Quichotte," concluding with the recommendation of the French pronunciation "key-shot" for reading the book.
Rushdie's Quichotte unfolds at three levels. Underneath, is the story of an aging traveling salesman, Ismail Smile, an Indian-American who falls in love with a young Indian-American woman on TV and sets out, with his imaginary son in tow, on a letter-writing campaign to win her heart. At the middle level, is the Indian-born spy-novelist Sam DuChamp, who, bored with his main line of creating fictional characters and mind-numbing plots, decides to write a story featuring a much more realistic character, a TV-obsessed traveling salesman. Then, there is the top level, from which we look down on both the writer and his creation, the Quixotic salesman, both of them pedestrian characters longing to be heroes.
Many of the novel's characters are East-Indians pursuing their dreams in Trumpland. The plight of immigrant families, separated and spread over several countries, facing even greater challenges under the new anti-immigrant sentiments, is a central focus of the novel beyond the story of its fictional characters. Rushdie tries to be funny at times, but the humor falls flat for the most part.
Rushdie's life story is, of course, compelling. Should one take the fact that he has lived under death threats for decades, because his work was deemed blasphemous, into account in reviewing his work, or should one focus only on the words on the page (or in the audio file) only? Separating the writer from the work, which is always difficult, is even more so in the case of Rushdie.
I must say I was underwhelmed with this latest novel of Rushdie, perhaps because I went in with high expectation. I have not actually read any of his previous books (though, I started on Satanic Verses, before giving up), but who could escape indirect knowledge of Rushdie's work and the praise it has received? Was Rushdie trying to pull a Sam DuChamp, writing something different from his previous body of work? Did he try to rebel by creating mundane characters, surrounded by references to pop culuture, instead of philosophically and morally complex issues?
If you are a Salman Rushdie fan, read the novel and decide for yourself. If not, then you can safely stay away from this one.

2020/01/18 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Women's March Santa Barbara: Pre-march events at SB County Courthouse's Sunken Garden Women's March Santa Barbara: Holding up my sign at the end of today's march route Dubai ruler, his estranged wife Haya, and bird's-eye-view of Dubai's waterfront (1) Images of the day: [Left & Center] Fourth Annual Women's March Santa Barbara (see the last item below). [Right] Where are Dubai's royal women? They keep fleeing the ultra-rich, "progressive" city-state. One of them, Princess Haya, daughter of Jordan's late King Hussein, is in London, using a high-priced "celebrity" lawyer to seek divorce from Dubai's ruler and gain the custody of their two children.
(2) A union representing UC Berkeley's teaching assistants wins in arbitration: At issue was Berkeley's EECS Department hiring TAs for 8 hours per week to avoid paying for their tuition, fees, and childcare, which are mandated at 10 hours per week. Millions will be paid back to hundreds of TAs.
(3) ERA is back in the spotlight: Virginia ratifies the Equal Rights Amendment to put it past the threshold needed for enactment. There are some complications, though, because this comes way after the deadline for state endorsements. Let's hope our lawmakers can find a way around this problem.
(4) On anonymity in social media: Yesterday, I tweeted, in English and Persian, about Khamenei's Friday Prayers sermon, calling it insulting to the grieving families and friends of the UIA plane crash victims: Within a few minutes, I was threatened with physical violence by an anonymous troll (@ssperssian) who indicated that I should watch my words, because his group is dispersed and can easily reach me anywhere on Earth.
Apparently, the cloak of anonymity emboldens people to issue edicts and threats that they wouldn't dare issue otherwise. The trouble with anonymity is that I can't even be sure that this person is a troll of Islamic Republic of Iran. He can just as easily be a part of some other group trying to make Khamenei and his supporters look worse than they really are. Anonymity and disinformation go hand in hand. Will social media survive the double-threat of anonymity and disinformation?
(5) Fourth Annual Women's March Santa Barbara: The crowd was a tad smaller than in prior years, but there was an enormous amount of energy from women marchers and speakers. The event started with a rally in SB County Courthouse's Sunken Garden, with marchers going from there to De La Guerra Plaza and on to the waterfront. [More photos] The pre-march events included a dance [video 1], a number of brief speeches, and poetry recitation [video 2]. Here are a couple of videos from the march on State Street [video 3] [video 4]. Drummers leading the march created a festive, high-energy atmosphere [video 5] [video 6]. The organizers' final message was that the Women's March won't end when we go home; we'll have to stay vigilant and active. And here's what one of the signs read: "Girls just wanna have FUN-damental human rights!"

2020/01/17 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover image of the January 2020 issue of 'IEEE Spectrum' Iran's Supreme Leader Khamanei at Friday Prayers The 'hidden figures' of Colossus code-breaking computers (1) Images of the day: [Left] The annual technology-review issue of IEEE Specturm, January 2020, lists autonomous fighter jets, wafer-scale chips, drone delivery, exascale computing, robot farm hands, and a new generation of Mars landers as technologies that will mature this year. [Center] Iran's Supreme Leader Khamanei at Friday Prayers (see the last item below). [Right] The "hidden figures" of Colossus: The team that built and operated the Colussus code-breaking computers at Britain's Bletchley Park during World War II, under the leadership of Alan Turing, included a large number of women mathematicians and coders.
(2) A dozen US service members were injured in the Iranian missile attack of January 8 on two bases in Iraq, despite the initial Pentagon denial. Lies from all sides!
(3) #ArsonEmergency is fake news: Australians are facing what the US faced in 2016. Hundreds of trolls and bots are promoting the idea that the country's devastating bushfires were set on purpose; extreme weather caused by climate change had nothing to do with it. A small number of fires may have been due to arson, which makes the false claims appear credible. #ArsonDeniers
(4) Project cost over-runs are common, but these national and multi-national projects take the cake:
Suez Canal, 1900% (x20); Sydney Opera House, 1400% (x15); Montreal Summer Olympics, 1300% (x14); Concorde, 1100% (x12); Scotish Parliament Building, 1000% (x11) [Source: E&T magazine, October 2019]
(5) Perhaps Rudy Giuliani wasn't kidding about having an insurance policy: He has become a serious liability to Trump, especially after evidence presented by his Ukranian associate Lev Parnas. Yet, Trump is still defending him as a top crime-fighter and a "good man." Anyone else would have been thrown under the bus by now!
(6) I have no sympathy for the Brits and their expelled Ambassador, who has also been threatened with physical violence: Why does England still have an embassy in Iran, after the Islamic regime's goons scaled the embassy walls and destroyed everything inside?
(7) The mullahs refuse to learn from their past mistakes: A high-ranking Iranian official says that instead of expelling the British Ambassador, he must be chopped into pieces. And the students who refused to step on American and Israeli flags are spies and must be court-marshaled as the enemy's fifth column. [Tweet]
(8) Crocodile tears: After many years, Khamenei returned to the Friday Prayers tribune to address the country's crisis. While his sermon wasn't as fiery as many had expected, he did accuse the Iranian people and foreign powers of undue attention to the downed Ukraine International Airlines plane "to make us forget the martyrdom of two of Islam's warriors." Talk about being delusional, while insulting grieving families and friends!

2020/01/16 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Poster for the Itzhak Perlman biopic film by Alison Chernick Full moon over a snow-covered Mount Damavand, Iran Charts showing the share of workers from the national income and the median income, over the years (1) Images of the day: [Left] Itzhak Perlman turns 75: He'll be performing in Santa Barbara's Granada Theater on January 21. There is also a screening of Alison Chernick's biopic film "Itzhak" tonight at UCSB. Here is my way of celebrating the maestro's BD. (Biopic's trailer) (Perlman performing "Theme from Schindler's List"). [Center] Full moon rising over the snow-covered Mount Damavand, Iran (photo tweeted by Majid Ghohroodi). [Right] On markets hitting record highs (see the next item below).
(2) Market performance isn't a good indicator of prosperity for workers: Trump defenders point to record-setting markets to claim that the economy is is in great shape. But markets doing well helps only those who own stocks directly (the rich) or indirectly (the upper middle class, with 401K and similar investments), not those living on meager incomes. The theory that when the rich do better, the poor also benefit (trickle-down economics) has been debunked repeatedly.
Eighty percent of American workers live paycheck-to-paycheck (Guardian). Many of these workers will be devastated if they face an emergency, because they have virtually no savings from which to draw. Over the past two decades, the fraction of national income that has gone to workers dropped from 66% to 60%, the greatest expansion of wealth inquality in US history.
Since 1973, the median income, adjusted for inflation, has stayed flat at around $70,000 for college-educated men and has gone down by 34%, from $53,000 to $35,000, for men with high school education (factory workers, etc.). Needless to say, the numbers are signifcantly lower for women.
(3) Evelyn Yang reveals that she was sexually assaulted by her doctor while pregnant: In a classic case of minimizing the severity of sexual assault and disbelieving victims, the doctor had been arrested before, but was allowed to return to his practice, leading to many additional assault victims, including the wife of presidential candidate Andrew Yang.
(4) Theoretical advance in the speed of multiplication: The commonly-used multiplication algorithm we learn in school has O(n^2) complexity for n-digit numbers, because we have to multiply each digit of one number by all the digits of the other number. For decades, researchers thought that it should be possible to multiply n-digit numbers in O(n log n) time, but no one knew how to do it or even prove that it's doable.
Along the way, Anatoly Karatsuba, challenged by the brilliant Andrey Kolmogorov, constructed an O(n^1.58) multiplication algorithm that had eluded others, Arnold Schonhage and Volker Strassen made clever use of the fast-Fourier-transform (FFT) algorithm to reduce the time complexity to O(n log n log log n), Martin Furer managed to reduce the final log log n term in O(n log n log log n) to something even smaller, but attempts to remove that term altogether, to get the simple O(n log n), were unsuccessful.
That is, until early in 2019, when David Harvey and Joris van der Hoeven developed a multiplication algorithm with O(n log n) complexity. This solves the problem theoretically, as it is unlikely for multiplication to have a lower complexity than O(n log n), although we don't know for sure. However, other than Karatsuba's algorithm, which is used in practice to multiply numbers with thousands of digits, the asymptotically more-efficient algorithms are unlikely to be usable, unless researchers manage to improve on the huge constants involved. [Source: News article by Erica Klarreich in Communications of the ACM, issue of January 2020]

2020/01/15 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
An old 1960s Chevrolet at UCSB, front view An unedited drone-camera image An old 1960s Chevrolet at UCSB, rear vies (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] An old Chevrolet at UCSB: Photographed on January 14, 2020, the impeccable 2-door car is likely an Impala from the early 1960s. [Center] Unedited drone-camera images.
(2) UCSB's resident expert on Iran interviewed on the conflicts in the region: Sociology Professor Kevin B. Anderson says that the real story isn't missiles and assassinations, which our media covers, but crushing economic sanctions that have made life unbearable for the average Iranian, as well as at least a decade of protests, with women at the forefront. "The fact that more women than men attend universities, that more books are translated each year into Persian than Arabic, that Iran has feminist publishing houses that translate many works in feminist theory, flies in the face of the 'othering' carried out by a U.S. mass media filled with stereotypes of fanatical terrorists and intensely pious Shia Muslims. Iran is in fact as polarized as the U.S., with a hard core of strong regime supporters, and equally hard core of committed oppositionists, and a vast majority in the middle that by now probably leans much more toward the opposition."
Panoramic photo for Payam Heydari's January 15, 2020, talk (Rusty's Pizza) (3) IEEE Central Coast Section technical talk: The speaker for our January 15, 2020, technical talk, "Shattering Fundamental Design Barriers of End-to-End Ultrahigh Data-Rate Transceivers: Direct Modulation in RF Domain," was Dr. Payam Heydari, Professor of Electrical Engineering at University of California, Irvine, Fellow of IEEE, and Distinguished Lecturer for IEEE Microwave Society, DML 2019-2021 (PhD, USC, 2001; BS & MS, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran, 1992 & 1995). Dr. Heydari's other honors and awards can be found on the IEEE CCS event page and DML speaker page. [See also IEEE CCS schedule of technical talks]
All-digital RF transceivers are reaching their limits that make going beyond 10 Gbps incredibly challenging in silicon technologies. Dr. Heydari elaborated on the nature of the challenges and argued that realizing modulation and demodulation schemes directly in RF domain can take us to data rates of 100 Gbps and beyond. Dr. Heydari then discussed transmitter/receiver chip prototypes developed by his research group to achieve extremely power-efficient 15+ Gbps data rates. [PDF slides] [FB post, with photos] [Tweet]

2020/01/14 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Volcanic ash covers large areas in the Philippines, leading to severe health hazards A Persian verse by Fazel Nazari: One should ask the triumphant Rostam / What he told Tahmineh about the killing of Sohrab Iran protests continue in 2020
A few interesting food/drink-related memes, Photo 1 A few interesting food/drink-related memes, Photo 2 A few interesting food/drink-related memes, Photo 3 (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Volcanic ash covers large areas in the Philippines, creating health hazards. [Top center] Persian poetry (a verse by Fazel Nazari): One should ask the triumphant Rostam / What he told Tahmineh about the killing of Sohrab. [Top right] Iran protests continue in 2020: In one gathering, at Shahid Beheshti Univeristy, a vast majority of protesting students walked around, rather than step on, US and Israeli flags painted from side to side of the walkway. [Bottom row] A few interesting food/drink-related memes.
(2) After lies and finger-pointing, Iranian authorities now call the victims of UIA Flight 752 "martyrs": The same mullahs and maddahs, from whom the victims had fled to study or settle in the West, are now shedding crocodile tears for them! [Poster]
(3) Rape threats used as a tool to subdue Iranian women: This misogynist, speaking on the official state TV of Iran, addresses a woman activist, scaring her of ISIS rapists and concluding, "maybe you'd enjoy it"!
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Oscars nominees 2020: The full list. [The awards show will be on ABC, Sunday, February 9, 5:00 PM PST]
- Humor: Trump's Iran strategy, in a Beatles parody song.
- QE II "approves" part-time leave from royal duties: phew, I am relieved! What exactly are "royal duties"?
- Flood victims in Iran's Sistan and Baluchestan provinces all but forgotten by their government.
- Microsoft and other tech giants have been paying the ad-blocking industry to let their ads through.
- Generous donations from UCSB staff and faculty allow students to pick out free professional outfits.
(5) "Machine Learning in High-Stakes Settings: Risks and Opportunities": This was the title of an interesting talk today by Maria De-Arteaga, a joint PhD candidate in Machine Learning and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University's Machine Learning Department and Heinz College. A common fear with regard to machine learning is its potential use in critical decision-making and associated reliability and fairness issues. Healthcare, hiring, child welfare, and the criminal justice system are notable examples. Ms. De-Arteaga characterized how societal biases encoded in data may be reproduced and amplified by machine-learning models, and presented an algorithm to mitigate biases without assuming access to protected attributes. Even if data does not encode discriminatory biases, limitations of the observed outcomes still hinder the effective application of standard machine-learning methods to improve decision-making. Challenges discussed by Ms. De-Arteaga included the selective labels problem and omitted payoff bias. She then proceeded to propose a methodology to estimate and leverage human consistency to improve algorithmic decision making. [Photos]
(6) "Science in a Fact-Free World": This was the title of a public lecture by Katharine Hayhoe (Atmospheric scientist, Director of Texas Tech University's Climate Science Center, and lead-author for the US National Climate Assessments under Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations), held in UCSB's Campbell Hall this evening as part of the "Forces of Nature" series that ties into the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the "UCSB Reads 2020" book, Rising.
I was blown away by Dr. Hayhoe's knowledge and presentation skills. She captivated the capacity Campbell Hall audience, particularly by her effective use of interactions involving the audience logging on to a Web page, answering questions, rating various options, and so on.
Dr. Hayhoe is a visionary, with many honors and accolades, including being named one of Time magazine's 100 most-influential people, Fortune's world's greatest leaders, and Politico's 50 thinkers, doers and visionaries transforming American politics. If you get a chance to hear Dr. Hayhoe up close, do not miss it, because it is a transformational experience.
A recurring theme in Dr. Hayhoe's talk tonight was the need to be genuine, creative, and tactical in the discussion of climate-change topics. Just reciting facts will not convert those who are in denial of the realities of climate change. Try to find common values that you both agree on and proceed from there.
The next best thing to hearing Dr. Hayhoe in person is to watch her 17-minute TED talk entitled "The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It." [Images]

2020/01/13 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Man, who survived in remote Alaska wilderness for 3 weeks following his cabin burning down, is spotted and rescued Cartoon: Iranian authorities apologize to the people for killing 176 souls on UIA Flight 752 Australia is air-dropping vegetables in bushfire areas to feed the stranded animals (1) Images of the day: [Left] Man, who survived in remote Alaska wilderness for 3 weeks following his cabin burning down, is spotted and rescued. [Center] Cartoon of the day: Iranian authorities apologize to the people for killing 176 on UIA Flight 752. [Right] Australia air-drops vegies in bushfire areas to feed the animals.
(2) As happened in the Khashoggi murder case in Saudi Arabia, Iran will likely try and quickly execute a handful of low-level operatives and declare "case closed, justice accomplished" in the downing of UIA passenger jet. Mark my words!
(3) What Khamenei said upon the downing of an Iranian passenger jet over the Persian Gulf: "You call it human error? How dare you?" (There is no exact equivalent for the Persian expression "ghalat kardid")
(4) Iranian authorities, including FM Javad Zarif, accept responsibility and apologize (sort of) for shooting down a Ukranian passenger jet, only after concluding that they can't hide the truth, given all the independently-collected evidence presented over the past three days. [Tweet image]
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- A plane wasn't the only thing that crashed; truthfulness and trust also crashed. [Iran editorial, in Persian]
- I can't believe that I now find George W. Bush's words refreshing: What a difference a decade makes!
- Persian poetry: The protest poem "Azadi" ("Freedom"), recited by old-time Iranian singer Dariush Eghbali.
- Musical instruments made of ice. [7-minute video]
- Persian poetry: Mahzad Razi recites verses from her own poem. [1-minute video]
- Humor: The next hurricane projected to reach Alabama should be named "Sharpie"!
(6) Athletics admissions under scrutiny: Following scandals about bribery and unwarranted athletics admissions at a number of big-name schools, University of California campuses will be forming oversight committees so that faculty members can keep an eye on such admissions. This slide is from the January 9, 2020, session of Faculty Legislature at UCSB.
(7) They called it human error: But the take-off protocol at Imam Khomeini International Airport entails three separate authorizations by the air-defense unit. [Tweet image]
(8) Sharif University of Technology's 16 victims of the UIA plane crash: SUT's Alumni Association publishes a list of names with photos and urges the university to erect a campus memorial honoring the victims.
(9) I was tempted to buy this 65" OLED TV at Costco: They had the smaller 55" model on display as well for $500 less. I was impressed by the bright, sharp image and by the fact that the display is essentially a pane of glass ~5 mm thick. In the end, I decided that I don't watch enough TV to justify the investment. The news programs that I do watch look fine on my smaller, old-tech TVs!

2020/01/12 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in the movie 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' Even Queen Elizabeth suffers from manspreading! Nancy Pelosi on the cover of Time magazine (1) Images of the day: [Left] Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers in the movie 'A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood' (see the last item below). [Center] Even Queen Elizabeth suffers from manspreading! [Right] Trump has probably put this issue of Time magazine on the Oval Office wall and is throwing darts at it!
(2) Lock her up? Another H. Clinton investigation, this one by Trump's own puppet at the US Justice Department, comes to an end without finding any wrongdoing. But will Trump and his followers abandon their vilification and conspiracy theories? I doubt it! [#LockHerUp]
(3) A world without pain: The woman who experiences suffering as an "abstract thing," making her unable to feel hopeless, may hold the genetic key to anxiety, trauma, and healing for all humans.
(4) How Russia bugged the typewriters at an American embassy: An account of actual bug-hunting (Eric Haseltine's The Spy in Moscow Station, Macmillan, 2019), includes an incident from the 1970s, where engineer Charles Gandy, unable to find any bugs that would explain information leakage from the US embassy in Moscow, had tons of electronics from the embassy shipped back to the US for disassembling and X-raying. After many fruitless X-rays, a technician noticed a small coil of wire inside the on/off switch of an IBM Selectric typewriter. Digging further revealed a number of expertly-concealed parts that were used to capture key-strokes and to send out the info in encrypted burst-transmissions. Springs and screws had been repurposed to deliver power to the hidden circuits and to act as antennas.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- To err is human. To kill your own people, while hiding your guilt and accusing others of disinformation, evil.
- Canadian universities mourn the loss of their affiliates in the crash of Ukraine International Airlines jet.
- Open the window, stick your head out, and scream "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more."
- Pick two letters, a vowel and a consonant, so that at least one of them appears in 47 of 50 US state names.
(6) Dated Soviet missile defense system from the 1970s in the hands of frightened, inexperienced grunts created a tragedy. Now, a few of those grunts will be executed, before declaring the case closed.
(7) "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood": Yesterday, I watched this 2019 movie, secreened at UCSB's Pollock Theater as part of the "Script to Screen" series. The film's co-screenwriter Noah Harpster participated in a discussion after the screening.
The film's protagonist isn't Fred Rogers (played wonderfully by Tom Hanks), but journalist Lloyed Vogel (portrayed by Matthew Rhys), whose messed-up life, including marital problems and difficult relationship with his father, was positively impacted by his friendship with Rogers. In the words of Harpster, there wouldn't have been much conflict or drama if the film's focus were on Rogers.
It took 10 years to realize this film project, during which time, the estate of Fred Rogers had to be brought around to cooperate. Once they came on board, though, the wealth of materials, including boxes of correspondence to/from Rogers, provided much insight into the ever-optimistic, kind man, who actually carried a big burden. Parts of the script and story are a tad cheesy, but this is a wonderful film overall.

2020/01/11 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Meme of the day (humor from citizens of Iran): Deal a blow to the US by bringing home all your children studying or living in America Cover image of Rachel Maddow's 'Blowout' 'National Geographic' cover image: Pain (1) Images of the day: [Left] Meme of the day (humor from the citizens of Iran): Dear Islamic Republic officials: To avenge the cruel act of assassinating Islam's warrior, General Qassem Soleimani, please bring home all your children studying or living in America. Let's unite in dealing a harsh blow to the US! [Center] Cover image of Rachel Maddow's Blowout (see the last item below). [Right] Scientists are unraveling the mysteries of pain, and exploring new ways for treating it.
(2) Statistics is cool now: UCSB's Department of Statistics and Applied Probability sees a surge in student interest, tripling the number of PSTAT majors over the past 6 years, due to new career paths.
(3) US cancer deaths dropped by 29% from 1991 to 2017: As usual, Trump tried to take credit for the good news, but the American Cancer Society immediately rebuffed him.
(4) Book review: Maddow, Rachel, Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, unabridged MP3 audiobook, read by the author, Random House Audio, 2019.
[My 5-star review of this book on GoodReads]
Rachel Maddow has a knack for explaining complex economic and political developments in plain, easily-accessible language. In this wonderfully-written book, she takes on the oil industry, which she describes as "essentially a big casino" with loads of cash used to empower some of the weirdest characters worldwide. One of these characters is Vladimir Putin, who used shady schemes to exert ever-greater influence over the country's oil and gas resources and to turn Russia into a petrostate.
Another unsavory character, with multimillion-dollar villas in several countries and an expensive yacht, is the son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator, whose country saw its oil revenues grow from $2 million to about $4 billion (an 1860-fold increase) in 14 years, while its citizens continue to struggle with poverty, low life expectancy, and lack of access to clean water.
Rex Tillerson, the Exxon-Mobil CEO and Secretary of State under Trump, is a recurring character, given his outsize influence on oil and gas development worldwide, including in Russia. A company the size of Exxon-Mobil, with more resources than many countries, can defy native and foreign laws, bribing its way to lucrative contracts, especially in countries ruled by corrupt strongmen, who essentially award contracts without having to consult anyone. Where there is a weaker dictator, who must get the approval of a circle of insiders, then bribery is used to buy the more influential members of that circle.
Many other stories in the book, from fracking in the US Midwest to British Petroleum's Gulf-of-Mexico oil spill, are covered with an eye for detail and the extreme influence and corruption that has kept the share of renewable sources of energy in the US to a mere 11%. Maddow argues for rules to prevent Western oil companies' corrupting influence worldwide, as well as an end to oil and gas industry subsidies.

2020/01/10 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
UCSB Library exhibit on Eunice Foote, Photo 2 UCSB Library exhibit on Eunice Foote, Photo 1 UCSB Library exhibit on Eunice Foote, Photo 3
UCSB Library exhibit on Eunice Foote, Photo 4 Somehow I had missed this property of 2020: It is the sum of the squares of four consecutive primes Australia braces for worsening conditions: Hot, windy days ahead are expected to complicate firefighting efforts (1) Images of the day: [Top row and bottom left] Eunice Foote, climate science pioneer, and the UCSB women faculty members who are following her lead (photos taken at a UCSB Library exhibit on January 09, 2020). [Bottom center] Somehow I had missed this property of 2020: It is the sum of the squares of four consecutive primes, 17^2 + 19^2 + 23^2 + 29^2 = 2020. [Bottom right] Australia braces for worsening conditions: Hot, windy days ahead are expected to complicate firefighting efforts (Newsweek). Meanwhile, the model who offered nude photos in exchange for donation to Australia's wildfire relief has raised ~$1 million (Buzzfeed).
(2) FM Javad Zarif's retort to Trump: "Humans rule the world, not military might." Great theory, but let's examine the practice. Zarif's big boss spoke the day after the Ukrainian plane crash, and did not even mention the incident that killed mostly Iranian citizens. Justin Trudeau honored the Canadian victims in his speech.
(3) Stats and names/photos of some of the Ukraine International Airlines crash victims: 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 4 Afghans, 3 Germans, and 3 Brits. As one observer put it, there were enough Iranians with advanced degrees on the flight to staff a research center. [Slide show]
(4) Computer Science Distinguished Lecture at UCSB: Bertrand Meyer, Professor of Software Engineering and Provost at Switzerland's Schaffhausen Institute of Technology, author of several books on software development, and founder and CTO of the Santa-Barbara-based Eiffel Software, spoke under the title "A Comprehensive Approach to Requirements Engineering."
Despite software engineering textbooks emphasizing the importance of requirements, and researchers advocating the use of formal methods, the practice of requirements engineering in industry leaves much to be desired. Many projects address requirements via "use cases" and "user stories," that is, examples, often not even issuing a requirements document. Dr. Meyer advocates a systematic approach to requirements, considered a software artefact at the same level as code or tests, and using a combination of formal and informal techniques leading to what he calls "multirequirements," laying out a seamless approach to software construction, from requirements to later stages of development, integrating the best ideas from traditional software engineering, agile methods, and object technology. The talk included a brief review of other work of the speaker and colleagues on full functional correctness proofs and automatic program analysis for aliasing and frame properties. [Images]
[On the margins: Meyer began with some humor. Many opt for studying computer science, thinking that they won't need to talk anyone. But developing software does require you to communicate with users (stakeholders, according to modern terminology) in formulating system requirements. This was the first time I heard Meyer, a giant in his field, speak. I was rather disappointed with the quality of his presentation, particularly rushing through a large number of slides: a sin often committed by novice speakers. Old-timers learn to aim for communicating with, rather than impressing, the audience.]
(5) Late-breaking news: After repeated denials by multiple authorities, Iran admits to mistakenly shooting down Ukraine International Airlines' Boeing 737 passenger plane with 176 on board.

2020/01/09 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Australia braces for worsening conditions: Hot, windy days ahead are expected to complicate firefighting efforts Engineering graduates killed in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in Tehran Is the US hiding the bodies of the soldiers killed in Iran's attack on airbases in Iraq? (1) Images of the day: [Left] Australia braces for worsening conditions: Hot, windy days ahead are expected to complicate firefighting efforts (Newsweek). Meanwhile, the model who offered nude photos in exchange for donation to Australia's wildfire relief has raised ~$1 million (Buzzfeed). [Center] Engineering graduates killed in the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 in Tehran (see item 2 below). [Right] Is the US hiding the bodies of the soldiers killed in Iran's attack on airbases in Iraq? (see item 4 below)
(2) Graduates of Sharif University of Technology among victims of the plane crash in Tehran: Sharif University of Technology Association (SUTA) has published the photos above, while announcing that at least 130 of the plane's passengers were Iranian. And here is a wedding video for the young couple who went to Iran, got married, and boarded a plane to return home. I know sharing photos and videos from Ukraine International Airlines plane crash victims doesn't do anything except add to our sorrow, but still, it's useful to be reminded of life's fragility. Be grateful to have survived to your current age, and make each new day count! Meanwhile, from other sources, terrorism and missile strike by Iran have not been ruled out as possible causes. Iran has reported damage to the plane's black boxes, which would suggest an explosion, rather than mechanical failure.
(3) NYT video shows the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed in Tehran was hit by a missile: "A small explosion occurred when a missile hit the plane, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport, The Times has determined. The plane flew toward the airport ablaze before it exploded and crashed quickly." Someone in Iran has a lot of explaining to do. How can an ascending, large passenger jet be mistaken for an attacking fighter or bomber?
(4) Iran's "harsh revenge" was a farce: Meanwhile, the country lost 200+ citizens in the stampede incident (due to lack of planning and lax safety provisions) and the downing of UIA passenger jet (putting sophisticated and deadly weapons in the hands of incompetent and paranoid personnel). To divert attention from these self-inflicted losses, some regime defenders are claiming that hundreds of US soldiers were killed in Iran's attack on airbases in Iraq and that their bodies are being hidden!
(5) Facebook bans "deepfake" videos, using subtle features that may not be apparent to average viewers.
(6) News from Consumer Electronics Show: Byton, a China-based car company, introduces an electric vehicle with a side-to-side 48-inch screen on the dashboard and another screen on the steering wheel.

2020/01/08 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Chances of armed conflict between Iran and the US reduced Faces of the 176 victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crash in Tehran UCSB West Campus Beach during this afternoon's low tide (1) Images of the day: [Left] Chances of armed conflict between Iran and the US reduced (see item 2 below). [Center] Faces of victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crash in Tehran (see item 3 below). [Right] UCSB West Campus Beach during this afternoon's low tide: One of the photos includes a view of Platform Holly and the other one shows Santa Cruz Island (left) and Santa Rosa Island (right).
(2) Iran saved face and helped Trump save face too: Through a missile attack that destroyed a few unoccupied buildings, mostly storage sheds devoid of expensive equipement, Iran gave Trump a chance to not retaliate; a chance that he took. Meanwhile, the missile attack is being sold to Iranian people as a "crushing response" to calm the domestic fervor. Let's call it even (sarcasm): Iran lost its #2 person, two-dozen missiles, and 50+ lives in a stampede; the US lost a few buildings!
(3) Faces are being put on the 176 victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 crash in Tehran: Plane crash victims often remain faceless. They are just a group of strangers, at best categorized by nationality. But in this age of social media, we are seeing photos of many of the victims and read their life stories, courtesy of their Facebook friends. Like the just-married couple, both educated at Sharif University of Technology, returning home from their wedding in Iran. Like the wife and daughter of a prominent Iranian doctor residing in the West. Like the young man who posted his last selfie. Like two university professors from Alberta, who were among the 63 Canadian victims.
(4) New shiny object in primeland: On January 1, 2020, a grid of thousands of networked computers found the Mersenne prime 2^(77 232 917) – 1 as the largest prime to date (it has 23 249 425 digits in decimal).
(5) Snowflake with a Purple Heart: Combat veteran, 52, a freshman at Yale University (class of 2023), is impressed with his young classmates, whom some disparagingly call "snowflakes."
(6) Year-2000 problem raises its ugly head again: Lazy fix to the Y2K problem (treating 2-digit year-codes 00 to 19 as representing 2000 to 2019, instead of 1900 to 1919) is bringing back problems, as we roll into 2020, which is seen by the poorly-fixed systems as 1920.

2020/01/07 (Tuesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Some culturally significant sites in Iran, set 1 Some culturally significant sites in Iran, set 2 Some culturally significant sites in Iran, set 3 (1) Images of the day: Trump's threat to destroy cultural sites in Iran has led to a flurry of posts on such sites, including these photos of Iranian architecture by Mohammad Reza Domiri Ganji.
(2) How does threatening Iraq with 'big' sanctions make sense? The US has sacrified thousands of lives and more than a trillion dollars to help the post-Saddam Iraq succeed. Now we want to make it fail if it kicks us out?
(3) Iran launches ballistic missiles into al-Assad and Erbil US air bases in Iraq. Initial assessment indicates that no US troops were killed; unclear whether this was by design, to de-escalate tensions, or accidental. Multiple Iraqi casualties have been reported, though.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- At least 56 dead and 100s injured in a stampede during funeral procession for Qassem Suleimani in Iran.
- Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 with 180 aboard crashes shortly after taking off from Tehran.
- New Yorker article about Qassem Suleimani, published in 2013.
- Iconic natural rock formation collapses in this morning's magnitude-6.4 Puerto Rico quake. [Photos]
- Amazon sets up shop in Santa Barbara, occupying the old Saks Fifth Avenue Building, with 100 employees.
(5) Detention and extreme vetting of Iranian-Americans at the US-Canada Border: Despite denials by CBP officials, more first-hand accounts of Iranian-born citizens being detained and questioned are emerging.
(6) John Bolton is no angel: He is working to cover his behind and to maximize his book royalties. If he cared about the US and national security, he would have an easy decision whether or not to testify; no pre-conditions or negotiations would be needed.
(7) Talk about fake news: Arizona GOP Congressman Paul Gosar posts a fake photo of former US President Barack Obama shaking hands with Iran's President Rouhani, using the caption, "The world is a better place without these guys in power."
(8) Talk about detachment from realities of war: I find it amusing, no, frightening, that Trump supporters among Iranians in diaspora, many of whom live peaceful, prosperous lives, write about a war with Iran being the necessary price for ridding the country of mullahs.

2020/01/06 (Monday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Global ocean temperatures on Sunday, January 5, 2020 New Yorker cartoons: Targeted ads based on my innermost thoughts (1) Images of the day: [Left] Ocean temperatures on Jan. 5, 2020 (see the last item below). [Right] Targeted ads based on my innermost thoughts: New Yorker cartoons by Karen Chee, illustration by Jeremy Nguyen.
(2) A lunatic throws a stone in the well that a hundred sages cannot take out (Persian saying): Trump has just turned a run-of-the-mill Iranian general into a national hero, leaving the Iranian regime no choice but to avenge his death. The retaliation may be chosen to be limited/small by Iran, which is in no position to wage a full-blown war, with its economy in tatters. But even a small act will be avenged by Trump, given his temperament and total disregard for international norms. From there, escalation is almost certain. [Video tweet]
(3) The Afghanistan Papers: America's longest war came with deliberate misrepresentation by multiple US presidents, generals, elected officials, and even news media to hide the costs and lack of a path to victory.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- On Soleimani and his elevation to hero status by the Iranian regime and its cast of extras. [Persian tweets]
- Rain provides some relief in Australia: Some estimates put the loss of wildlife at 50%.
- The three "I"s in the US news: Impeachment, Iowa, Iran.
- Intel's 10-nm Ice Lake laptop chip is overtaken by AMD's just-revealed 7-nm Ryzen 4000 CPUs.
(5) Status of computing power: This slide, from today's introductory lecture in my graduate course on parallel processing shows that computing power has been rising exponentially, like clockwork. In the year 2000, we had gigaflops performance at our fingertips (desktops), teraflops performance in the supercomputer center, and petaflops performance on the drawing board. The slide was updated in 2010 and again in 2020, to show 1000-fold performance improvement in each category (the black text is from 2000 and has not been updated).
(6) Elaborating on my November 16, 2019, blog post about climate-change-related micro-projects for the winter 2020 offering of the graduate course on parallel processing (UCSB ECE 254B): An aspect of climate and long-term weather modeling is predicting ocean temperatures. One might think that the oceans all being connected to one another means that temperatures should converge after a while to a common global ocean temperature. This is far from being the case, as the map above for January 5, 2020, indicates. [Source] So, a key question is: How do we go about predicting ocean temperatures in a decade? In 20 years? In 50 years?

2020/01/05 (Sunday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Repost from last year: Carl Sagan on the foolishness of nuclear arms race Old-style transfer sheet we used decades ago to compose Persian text (for headings, graphic designs, art) by trasfering one letter at a time from the sheet to paper Repost from last year: Khamenei on feminism being a Zionist plot (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] Reposts from last year: Carl Sagan on the foolishness of nuclear arms race and Khamenei on feminism being a Zionist plot. [Center] Borna Izadpanahs article on the pioneering Iranian type designer Hossein Haghighi: The image shows a "transfer sheet" we used decades ago to compose Persian text (for headings, graphic designs, art) by trasfering one letter at a time from the sheet to paper.
(2) The bombshell in the US that may have led to the bombshell in Iraq: "Newly revealed documents paint an incriminating picture, showing administration officials anxiously struggling to follow orders from Trump himself despite concerns that the order could go against the national security interests of the United States and warnings from the Pentagon that it could be illegal."
(3) [There are conflicting reactions to the death of Qassem Suleimani in the entire Middle East region, some celebrating and some mourning the death] Afghan member of parliament criticizes her government for sending condolences for the death of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani: You are mourning the death of someone who murdered thousands in Afghanistan and Syria.
(4) Lessons from history: This film shows the funeral procession for Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich, nicknamed "The Butcher of Prague," assassinated by the allies three years before the fall of Hitler.
(5) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Opposing views about Iranians marching to mourn Suleimani: I tend to agree with the first view. [Tweets]
- Trump threatens Iraq with "very big sanctions" if it forces US troops to leave. [Washington Post]
- Recitation of a wonderful poem of Mowlavi (Rumi). [Video]
- Santa-Barbara-area drivers brave gas lines to fill up at $3.70/gal, as prices continue to rise. [KEYT News]
(6) There is no such thing as free shipping: We, as consumers, pay for it, one way or another. Amazon hides its shipping charges in its Prime membership fee and higher costs for items that are "Prime-eligible." Amazon and other huge retailers also have the power to negotiate for low shipping costs with major carriers. Meanwhile, small mom-and-pop retailers, facing a choice between offering free shipping (because gullible consumers have come to expect it) or losing business, see their profit margins shrink or disappear, because of their much higher shipping costs.
(7) Iranian-Americans may be subject to extreme vetting when reentering the US: I have seen a couple of very recent reports that Iranians leaving the US have faced delays and harsh treatment upon their return. I was unable to find an official report about an order to CBP for additional vetting, but if you are Iranian-American, you might want to stay in place for now.

2020/01/04 (Saturday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Cover of E&T magazine, issue of October 2019 Mitra Hejazipour kicked off Iran's national chess team for appearing sans hijab in an international tournament Cartoon: Uncle Sam struggling with a 4-year hangover, since 2016!
England's three future kings with Queen Elizabeth II Queen Elizabeth II on the cover of Newsweek magazine Ready to return to normal, post-holidays schedule (1) Images of the day: [Top left] Which material will dominate next? Carbon? Lithium? Hydrogen? Copper? (Source: E&T magazine, issue of October 2019) | Stone Age: Up to 3200 BCE | Bronze Age: 3200-1200 BCE | Iron Age: 1200 BCE - 100 CE | Glass Age: 1300 CE - Now | Steel Age: 1800s - Now | Aluminum Age: 1800s - Now | Plastic Age: 1907 - Now [Top center] Iran loses another top chess player to its idiotic policies: First, it was Alireza Firouzja, whose sin was playing against an Israeli opponent. Now, it's Mitra Hejazipour, kicked off the national team for appearing sans hijab in an international tournament. Kudos to these smart and brave young Iranians! [Top right] Cartoon of the day: Uncle Sam struggling with a 4-year hangover! [Bottom left and center] Newsweek magazine cover story question: Can Queen Elizabeth II control the royal family? Shown with three future kings of England in the photo on the left. [Bottom right] Ready to return to normal, post-holidays schedule: The kids are gone. I spent the morning cleaning the courtyard, the cat house, and other mess left by my daughter's cats. As I was hosing things down, I decided to wash the trash and recycling bins. One more day left to get ready for my first 2020 class on Monday.
(2) Iranian new year (saal tahvil): With the holiday season and new-year 2020 celebrations behind us, it's time to take a look at the next major event for Iranians; Norooz festival, which kicks off the Iranian new year 1399 beginning at the 2020 Spring Equinox. The moment of Spring Equinox is stated variously by different sources. Given that the first two times are within 23 seconds of each other, I take ~8:50 PM California time on Thursday, March 19, 2020, to be the correct time.
Thursday, March 19, 8:49:37 PM California time = Friday, March 20, 7:19:37 AM Iran time (7Seen.com)
Thursday, March 19, 8:50:00 PM California time = Friday, March 20, 7:20:00 AM Iran time (Ghandchi.com)
Thursday, March 19, 9:00:30 PM California time = Friday, March 20, 7:30:30 AM Iran time (Taghvim.com)
(3) Huge chip, 50 times the size of the largest GPU, smashes deep-learning's speed barrier: Technology from Cerebras will train AI systems in hours, instead of weeks. [Image] [Source: IEEE Spectrum, January 2020]
(4) In the wake of Qassem Suleimani's assassination: Mourners march in Baghdad and there are reports of explosions. Trump warns Iran that if they retaliate, 52 targets in Iran, including several cultural sites, will be hit. Hard to believe that a Western "civilized" country is threatening to destroy cultural sites!

2020/01/03 (Friday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Trump tweets from 2011-2013, claiming that Obama would attack Iran to help himself politically US forces assassinate two generals in Iraq Raging fires Down Under are the worst in history
Maryam Akbari Monfared is as defiant as ever in her 9th year of imprisonment, supporting the recent protests and demanding justice for the victims Can't stop hate crimes with a hateful president Let's not allow normalcy to set in: Remember Iran's political prisoners (1) Images of the day: [Top left] There's a tweet for that: If you wonder what Trump is up to in the Middle East, you don't need to speculate. Read his own words/thoughts from 2011-2013. [Top center] US forces assassinate two generals in Iraq (see the next item below). [Top right] Raging fires Down Under: Lost in the barrage of news about impeachment and troubles in the Middle East is the grim situation in Australia, facing its deadliest fires in history, which are still intensifying. [Bottom left] Ridiculously long sentences for Iranians demanding basic human rights: Women in particular are subject to long prison terms, because their struggle for women's rights (= human rights) is seen as undermining the Islamic Republic's misogynistic foundations. Maryam Akbari Monfared is as defiant as ever in her 9th year of imprisonment, proudly supporting the recent protests and demanding justice for the victims. [Bottom center] Can't stop hate crimes with a hateful president. [Bottom right] Let's not allow normalcy to set in: A most horrifying thing for Iran's political prisoners is being forgotten by those outside, who have come to expect/accept long jail terms for non-violent civil disobedience.
(2) Latest develpment in Baghdad: Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani and Iraq's Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis reportedly killed in an air strike near Baghdad Airport. The timing of the assassinations doesn't pass the smell test, though. Now, as much as I hate Trump and his clueless foreign policy, the two generals were waging war against the US and were eliminated in an act of war. However, the question remains: Why now? Trump could have ordered this action any time during the past three years, and he would not have been faulted for killing enemy combatants. But he kept saying that he prefers sanctions and negotiations to war. Ten months before the US elections and with impeachment trial about to start in the US Senate, it's obvious what changed.
(3) [Iran's government declares a 3-day public mourning period] Americans kill 1 person: 3 days of mourning | Iran kills 1500 citizens: 0 day of mourning
(4) The Chinese, who invented fireworks, are now moving toward the use of drones, which are less polluting: For New Year 2020, some 2000 drones created a spectacle in Shanghai. [BBC video]
(5) SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts is worried about disinformation amplified by the Internet and social media: "In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public's need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital."

2020/01/02 (Thursday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
New Yorker cartoon: Layers of weight gain through the various months of the year One last 'Happy New Year' message, before we settle into the year 2020! New Yorker cartoon: First-ever case of facing a choice between family and career!
On polygamy officially promoted in Iran Hillary Clinton, the first woman Chancellor of Queens University, Belfast. Iran's top chess player Alireza Firouzja (1) Images of the day: [Top left] New Yorker cartoon: Layers of weight gain through the various months of the year. It looks funny, until you think about the mechanism for going from December to January of the next year! [Top center] One last 'Happy New Year' message, before settling into 2020! [Top right] New Yorker cartoon: First-ever case of facing a choice between family and career! [Bottom left] On polygamy officially promoted in Iran (see the next item below). [Bottom center] Hillary Clinton begins a 5-year term as the first woman Chancellor of Queens University, Belfast. [Bottom right] Iran's top chess player (see the last item below).
(2) Polygamy in Iran: Iran's State TV is apparently running ads touting the benefits of polygamy and certain social-media influencers are also chiming in. For example, if one wife travels, three others are still available. They can also develop friendships for emotional support and help each other with childcare and home chores. Well, one can cite the exact same benefits for polyandry! In fact, the Persian word for polygamy ("chand-hamsari") happens to be gender-neutral (it means "multi-spousal").
(3) Japanese Kane Tanaka, world's oldest living person, turns 117 today: She needs 6 more birthdays to beat Frenchwoman Jeanne Louise Calment, who died at 122, although doubts about her age have been raised.
(4) Iranian women continue their fight against injustice: Mother of an imprisoned 22-year-old, now in prison herself, speaks out in support of labor activists and resistance to compulsory hijab laws. [Tweet]
(5) "Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work": Trump has "diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide." [NYT]
(6) Iran's top chess player Alireza Firouzja will play for France: He and other players had defied the Iranian government's order not to play against Israeli opponents and, as a result, the entire team was denied the opportunity to participate Moscow championships. Idiotic policies are depriving Iran of top talent in various fields, science, sports, and music being the most notable examples. European soccer teams are voraciously recruiting Iranian players and Western universities are benefiting from Iran's distinguished academics.

2020/01/01 (Wednesday): Presenting selected news, useful info, and oddities from around the Internet.
Happy New Year 2020, a number that conveys double-perfection in Persian (1) Images of the day: [Left & Right] See the next two items below. [Center] Happy New Year to all: Those who grew up in Iran view 20 as a sign of perfection (20 is the highest grade one can get at school, much like 100 in the West, and is also slang for "perfect"). Wishing you double-perfection in your personal and professional lives as we enter 2020. With hopes that double perfection is also experienced by the countries I love, both currently in deep trouble, my motherland, Iran, and my adopted homeland, the United States.
(2) Properties of 2020 as a number: As a numbers buff, I tend to look up the properties of the year number every January. There isn't much to report for 2020. Despite being called a magical number by some sources and signifying double-perfection in Persian, 2020 isn't all that interesting as a number!
(3) More on the number 2020: I also like to challenge myself to form as many numbers as I can, using math operators and the digits of the year's number in their original order. The two 0s make it difficult this year. I got as far as 10. In the image, I have spelled out some math operators for which I don't have keyboard symbols.
(4) One-liners: Brief news headlines, happenings, memes, and other items of general interest.
- Protesters break into Baghdad's US embassy, prompting evacuation of diplomats: Shades of 1979 Tehran?
- New Yorker humor: Trump's Valentine's Day poems for Mike Pence, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and more.
- Riddle: How do you find Will Smith after a blizzard? Follow the fresh prints.
- Cosmetic surgery used to be a taboo subject. Now, you can talk about Botox and nobody raises an eyebrow.
- Persian music: Sonbol Taefi performs "Rokh-e Mahboob" ("The Beloved's Face").
(5) A young man connected to power in Iran: This prominent Iranian-regime insider, whose job is to spend government grants (lavishly bestowed on "cultural" entities), "researches" the educational system that produces Islamic clerics in Qum and elsewhere. He proudly displays his four wives in this tweeted photo.